Say farewell to hopes of unitary Ipswich

IPSWICH borough chief executive James Hehir is a man of enormous optimism - and for that he should be admired during these difficult times.But I'm afraid I don't share his belief that local government in Suffolk will still be shaken up after the latest substantial delay .

IPSWICH borough chief executive James Hehir is a man of enormous optimism - and for that he should be admired during these difficult times.

But I'm afraid I don't share his belief that local government in Suffolk will still be shaken up after the latest substantial delay . . . and it's difficult to find many other people who think it will happen now.

The latest five-month delay looks terminal. Just do the mathematics.

The final decision by the Boundary Committee is due to be published on July 15. Then the local government minister has to decide whether to accept or reject their proposals.

That decision will probably take until the end of the year. Mr Hehir says that should then mean elections for the new “shadow” authorities in May 2010 with the new councils taking up their powers in May 2011.

In theory that is possible - but add in the politics of the situation and the whole process looks very dodgy.

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May (or in theory June) 2010 is the last date on which there can be a general election - and right now I wouldn't put any money on Labour being re-elected.

The Tories have been very hostile to most of the proposals to shake-up local government and would be unlikely to allow changes to go through unless they liked the new shape . . . which would probably mean they would only give the go-ahead to a unitary Suffolk and unitary Norfolk.

They are options the current government is very hostile towards - they know the Tories have controlled Suffolk for all but 12 of the last 100 years.

If the Tories fight the next general election with a manifesto pledge that they will bin the reorganisation proposals, what chance is there that they will ever be implemented?

The charitable view is that the Labour government has always been lukewarm about the process of local government reorganisation.

However, if the government did see this as a priority, the way they have gone about the process has been pathetic - they have subjected well-run organisations to years of uncertainty because, in the words of the football chant “they don't know what they're doing”!

Until a few weeks ago, I'd thought the next general election would be very tight. Labour might be in power in the teeth of the recession, but it had experienced leaders who might persuade the electorate they knew how to get us out of this mess.

Now, though, things are looking different. The return of Kenneth Clarke to front-line politics has made the Tories look authoritative for the first time in nearly two decades.

I'm even beginning to detect a certain fatalism among some Labour supporters who feel the time may be coming for the party to “regenerate” itself in opposition.

So, with it looking increasingly likely that we will get a change of government next year, the chance of getting a reform of local government seems set to fade further into the distance.

And all the uncertainty, financial cost, and public servants' time spent on the project over the last four years will have been wasted.

Frankly any government that has presided over such a monumental foul-up probably doesn't deserve a fourth term in office.

I CAN'T claim to have known Doug Grimwood well personally. He was a senior councillor at the borough when I was a young reporter and before I really got to know my way around the town's corridors of power.

But I do know that his impact on the life of the borough, as number two to Jamie Cann, cannot be under-estimated. A councillor once told me: “They're like Brian Clough and Peter Taylor!”

During the 1980s the two of them played a major role in regenerating Ipswich - improving the town's council houses, building new sports facilities and attracting new businesses to replace the old manufacturing companies that were reducing their workforce.

News of his death this week reminded me just how much his generation was responsible for the town that we live or work in today and he will certainly be remembered fondly by those who knew the town 20 years ago.

I'd also like to extend my personal condolences to his son Mike, one of the most helpful council officers you'll find in Grafton House.

I SEE that the police in Ipswich have issued a warning to motorists that they are to crack down on those driving illegally through pedestrian areas.

Quite right too!

The number of private cars driving along the “restricted entry” Dogs Head Street and Upper Brook Street near our office is quite phenomenal.

I really don't believe these drivers don't know the road is closed to them - there surely can't be that many ignorant people on the roads of Suffolk!

So from that we have to deduce that they are deliberately breaking the law. They simply cannot be bothered to obey the rules of the road.

And for that reason they deserve to be targeted in a police crackdown. If the streets of Ipswich are to be attractive to shoppers, they need to be cleared of private cars.

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