Clifford Smith was Chief Planning Officer, then Chief Executive of East Suffolk County Council and from 1974 Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council. With so much experience of local government it was not surprising that he gave the Society a talk (on 9 January) which was comprehensive, methodical and coloured with thoughtful personal opinion. It is hard to do justice to the detail and quality of his talk but I should start by summarising that his 'Fifty Years of Planning' is inextricably wedded to 'Fifty Years of Reorganisation of Local Government'!
The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act was administered by Local Authorities, often without qualified planners although sometimes informally aided by civic societies such as ours and by architects' panels. There were 33 Local Authorities in Suffolk, of which three were planning authorities with limited resources. In 1964 the South East Study was a "first bombshell". Planning consultants came up with bright ideas such as expanding Ipswich along the Orwell to link up with Felixstowe. Few Local Authorities would have been able to handle such big proposals but East Suffolk's response was that before any development should occur, an Orwell crossing must be built. Then the Shankland Cox plans of 1965 proposed major housing developments adjacent to Ipswich, one in the south and one in the south-west, with a motorway through the middle of town!
Future plans and Public Inquiries took place until the Government in 1969 decided not to proceed. Clifford was pleased about that decision because a New Town governance would not have had much, if any, local control. But at least all these deliberations had led to the existing Local Authorities working together, especially East Suffolk and Ipswich Borough Council, now with its first planning officer, Geoff Ramsdale (1970).
The "next bombshell" was the 1972 Royal Commission to reorganise Local Government - just as authorities had starting working together! One of its aims was to create larger authorities. Suffolk County Council was created with seven District Councils (including Ipswich) - as now. Suffolk County Council was then big enough to run education, social services, strategic planning, highways, etc. But the reorganisation had created eight planning authorities instead of the previous three. Clifford acknowledged that this didn't go down well with Ipswich which, having lost its County Borough status, wanted to become a unitary authority.
His assessment of Suffolk County Council's achievements since 1974 included many different aspects of the County's work, e.g. welcoming more employment such as BT, Willis and Axa, the growth of the Port of Felixstowe, ensuring that housing growth has been in the right areas, the Orwell Bridge, dualling of the A14 and A12 (part), keeping the East Suffolk railway, designing and managing the Heritage Coast, and resisting imposed growth.
He regretted Central Government's "increased powers" and "increased privatisation of services" and not surprisingly he argued strongly that two-tier Local Authorities are wasteful. At the end, there were some searching questions from the floor and some thoughtfully reasoned answers.
It was a splendidly delivered, worthy talk and a thought provoking evening. Many of us felt that the County Council had been in good hands with such a Chief Executive.