Regional government up for debate

EAST Anglians are to be given the chance to tell the government exactly what they think of plans for regional government in this part of the country.The government is trying to find out whether people in the east of England – stretching from Cromer on the north Norfolk coast to Watford in Hertfordshire – want to hold a referendum on the subject.

By Paul Geater

EAST Anglians are to be given the chance to tell the government exactly what they think of plans for a regional assembly.

The government is trying to find out whether people in the east of England – stretching from Cromer on the north Norfolk coast to Watford in Hertfordshire – want to hold a referendum on the subject.

As prime minister Tony Blair told The Evening Star earlier this year: "If you don't want it, don't have it!"

Now local government minister Nick Raynsford has indicated that people in the region are to be given the chance to say whether they want a referendum on regional government.

This would almost certainly spell the end for the historic counties. Instead a smaller number of district councils would undertake all local government functions not sent to the regional assembly.

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Police, fire, health services, transport and strategic planning would probably all be handled on a regional basis.

The Evening Star outlined our objections to regional government earlier this year – the belief it will make "local" decisions even more remote from the people they affect.

And by making the region so large, the government is trying to create an identity that simply does not exist.

People from Suffolk may share common interests with those from Norfolk and north Essex, but have nothing in common with those from Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire.

Most people from Suffolk know London far better than they know other regional centres like Luton, Peterborough, Southend or Chelmsford.

But this has not dissuaded Mr Raynsford, who said: "Elected regional assemblies will give people in the region their own distinct political voice and a real say over decisions that matter to them."

But he did acknowledge that there could be opposition to the proposals.

He said: "We have no intention of forcing elected assemblies on any region. We believe people should be given the opportunity to make that choice."

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