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Controversial plans to change Babergh District Council's name are put on ice

A council has been forced to backtrack on an attempt to change its name in the face of a fierce backlash from taxpayers.

The controversial proposal attracted national publicity last month when it was indicated that up to £10,000 would be needed to change Babergh District Council’s name, which has been used for more than 45 years, to South Suffolk.

But this week it was announced that the idea had been put on ice ahead of a scheduled meeting next week – although the council acknowledged the resulting publicity had not been all bad.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (19614878)
Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (19614878)

Confirming the climbdown, council leader John Ward said: “We have received valuable feedback both for and against the proposals over recent weeks that will help in our future discussions.

“We are extremely grateful for the free publicity we have received in the meantime, both nationally and internationally, that has helped people understand exactly where Babergh is located, and how to pronounce it.”

Cllr John Ward is elected as new Babergh District Council leader. (19615281)
Cllr John Ward is elected as new Babergh District Council leader. (19615281)

The current name is derived from the old Babergh Hundred administrative division, with the word having roots in the Domesday Book.

Sudbury councillor Sue Ayres, who defected from the Tories last month to serve as an independent on the council, said she was not at all surprised at the news.

She said she had been advised by the council’s own solicitor that the specially-convened meeting must still go ahead – but that the topic has to be taken off the agenda.

The former Sudbury mayor said: “By law, if we are asked to attend a meeting, we have to attend. So the meeting will still go ahead but without discussion of the name change.

“I don’t think it was thought through enough from the beginning. You have got to be open about these things and respect what people think.

“It’s other people’s money and there are far more important things to do,” she added.

Cllr Ayres said there had been no detailed information about the cost of the name change, except for mention of the figure of £10,000. “But that would only cover a new website,” she claimed.

“I only had two people in favour and far too many people telling me they were against it. When it was first announced, people couldn’t believe it. They said to me ‘what’s going on?’

“It was in every newspaper, from The Times to the The Sun,” she added.

Last month, Cllr Ayres (pictured), who represents Sudbury South West, said the decision to change the council’s name was the “last straw” that led to her decision to leave the Conservatives in favour of becoming an independent.

She added: “I just prefer being an independent – I’m not going back.”

According to the authority, any name change is now unlikely before 2021 – more than 18 months after it was due to be discussed.

A firm date for the matter to return has not been given, and may not surface again until after the next elections in 2023.

Deputy leader Clive Arthey said: “We recognise that there’s a lot to consider and we want to provide more time for all councillors to fully consider the potential benefits, implications and costs before meeting to reach any decision.

“Part of the rationale for the proposed name change was to help raise awareness and investment in the area – with people from further afield unaware of where Babergh is and what it has to offer.”

The council has been in existence since 1974, but the Babergh name first featured in the Domesday Book in 1086 as “baberga”.

According to the council, a name change can only be made if two thirds of the council agree.

Notice of any change would then be submitted to the Secretary of State, the Director General, the Ordnance Survey and the Registrar General for final approval.

Green group leader Robert Lindsay
Green group leader Robert Lindsay

Green group leader Robert Lindsay said: “It’s John Ward’s idea and I have got some sympathy with it, but he needs to get a two thirds majority to get it through.

“We had a meeting of all the group leaders and it’s quite clear that a majority isn’t there at the moment.

“I am pleased we are not considering it because there are far more urgent things that need to be done, like the climate emergency, that are worth spending money on.”

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