Unitary news shocks town

IT'S very difficult to know whether yesterday's news that the unitary bid by Ipswich Council has been put on hold is good news or bad.From day one of the bid I felt that the current boundaries of the town were too small.

IT'S very difficult to know whether yesterday's news that the unitary bid by Ipswich Council has been put on hold is good news or bad.

From day one of the bid I felt that the current boundaries of the town were too small. Ipswich in the 21st century is the urban mass surrounded by the A14/A12 box - including Kesgrave, Martlesham Heath, Rushmere and Pinewood.

Unitary councils have to be the way forward - they make it far easier for ordinary voters to understand how councils work. But to create a new council while excluding these communities was always far from ideal.

So from that point of view, delaying the creation of a unitary Ipswich by a year or two if the final council is a better size makes great sense.

But my suspicion is that this is not a delay in the sense that the government wants to get things right. This smells to me of the kind of delay that goes on for ever and ever and ever.

The last time I remember a government changing course quite so radically to introduce a “delay” was back in 1990 when the government “delayed” plans to build Sizewell C and other nuclear power stations.

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Nuclear power might be on the political agenda again now - but it has been a dead issue for a political generation.

This delay smacks to me of that decision. The Boundary Committee might be looking at the issue - but I can't see it acting very fast on that.

Frankly we'll be stuck with the status quo for the foreseeable future.

Talk of pulling Suffolk and Norfolk apart and creating five unitary councils is very logical. It makes great sense to have the rural areas covered by unitary counties and the three urban centres running their own affairs.

The government says it should come together with proposals for such a move by this time next year with first elections in June 2009.

It would be great to see that happening, but with all the other crises the government is expected to face over that time, I can't help feeling this is one battle they will not be too keen to join.

And while those of us who live in Ipswich might feel it is right for those who live just outside the town but use all our services to pay the same level of council tax, those who live in Pinewood, Kesgrave and Martlesham Heath will fight like tigers to maintain their rural tax levels!

The big question is, of course, why on earth it has taken the government so long to wake up to the fact that Victorian boundaries are no longer appropriate in the 21st century. Why had no one brought up this question before?

And the big loser in the whole shake up could be the Ipswich Labour Party.

A greater Ipswich including the town's suburbs would add more natural Tory voters to the borough than Labour supporters.

With two - or possibly even three - MPs representing a Greater Ipswich, you could well end up with three Tory MPs for the town, depending on where the boundaries were drawn.

Of course in a year like 1997 you would probably end up with three Labour members.

But all this is, at present, fantasy politics. I suspect I will not be the only person doubting whether we will see any major changes to the council structure in East Anglia over the next 10 years.

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