The Broads Authority could see a democratic overhaul under a new bill introduced in this week’s Queen’s Speech

The Broads Authority could become a democratically elected body under new plans laid out this week in the Queen’s Speech (4 June).

One of the proposed bills introduced by Her Majesty was the National Parks (England) and the Broads Bill, which would give the Environment Secretary the power to order direct elections in national parks and the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

First mooted in 2010 and the subject of a public consultation in 2011 and 2012, the plans were met with some caution from the Broads Authority, which takes responsibility for the operation and upkeep of the Norfolk and Suffolk inland waterway system.

Despite raising questions about the size of the electorate and whether boat owners would get a say in the provisional elections, John Packman, chief executive of the Broads Authority, welcomed the principle of direct elections for key roles.

“The Broads Authority has supported the principle of direct elections when it was consulted by the government,” he told MBM.

“One of the questions that was raised was the nature of the electorate because, if the boundary of the Broads Executive Area was used, then less than 6,000 people would be eligible to vote.

“And yet there are many more who live in and around the Broads who take a close interest in the work of the Authority and might feel they deserved to take part in any election.

“We look forward to finding out more detail as to what the government intends in due course.”

A trial of the new system is expected to be held in the New Forest and the Peak District to see how effective these elections would be, with the Broads unlikely to be affected before 2017.

A spokesperson for the British Marine Federation added: “A question mark remains about whether members [with boats on the Broads] will be considered eligible residents.

“We will seek clarification from government as details of the draft legislation are published in the coming months.”

Small business boost

At the same time, the BMF welcomed the plans unveiled in the Queen’s Speech relating to small businesses, admitting that “marine businesses are small businesses”.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill’s move to open up options for SME finance should benefit the 74% of marine businesses that employ fewer than five people, the BMF argues.

“Over-burdensome regulation often places unnecessary barriers on the marine industry’s growth and prosperity.

“We hope that the Government will maintain its zeal in this area, to support British businesses,” the BMF statement concluded.