New customer access point opens in Stowmarket as council merger plan prompts petition

Mid Suffolk District Council's chairman, Cllr Derrick Haley, opens the new Customer Access Point in Stowmarket
Mid Suffolk District Council's chairman, Cllr Derrick Haley, opens the new Customer Access Point in Stowmarket

The merger of two district councils is firmly back on the cards after cabinet members voted overwhelmingly to endorse the move.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils met to discuss replacing both councils with a new single authority, last Friday.

A public consultation period will begin this month to gather views, and if positive, a business case will then be drawn up.

The ‘informal endorsement’ has however prompted an online petition started by Labour councillor, Luke Cresswell, calling for a full public referendum.

The merger proposal was originally rejected in 2011, with 60.9 per cent of Babergh residents rejecting, with a 45.2 per cent turnout, and 59.9 per cent of Mid Suffolk residents accepting, with a 43.2 per cent turnout.

The two councils have however already been sharing resources since that time.

A new style, ‘walk-in’ Customer Access Point was also opened at 54 Ipswich Street, in Stowmarket, this week, for residents from both districts, offering face-to-face access to council services.

Arthur Charvonia, Babergh and Mid Suffolk’s joint chief executive, who recommended the merger proposal, said that while the result of 2011 referendum had to be taken into account, the increased challenges faced in local government meant it was appropriate to revisit the option.

“You could say that this proposal is the next logical step in this journey over the last six years. It’s a natural extension of our working together,” he told the meeting.

Mr Charvonia did not rule out a second public vote but stated it was too early in the process to speculate.

He added that another poll would cost approximately £100,000, while the engagement period would cost about £20,000.

Supporters of the merger say a single authority can wield greater authority and save around £1 million a year in running costs.