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County Durham could go it alone with mayor-elect in latest twist in Northeast devolution saga UK News

A new twist in the Northeast devolution saga could see County Durham pushing for its own elected mayor rather than bonding with its neighbors.

It was hoped that seven local councils on either side of the Tyne could come together under a new mayor spanning Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Gateshead and County Durham – with a deal potentially unlocking £ 500million of public funds for much needed transportation improvements.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that individual counties could now have the option of electing their own mayor as part of the government’s ‘leveling’ plans, rather than handing over powers and funding to figures bow covering major urban areas.

Read more:Councilor says Newcastle “denies” expulsions of travelers and denounces city “hostile” attitude

Durham Council Chief Amanda Hopgood said her authority “will consider all options, including a county mayor” as her new political leadership decides on the way forward.

Coun Hopgood, a Liberal Democrat, took the head of the council in May as Labor lost control of County Durham for the first time in 100 years, with authority now ruled by a coalition of Liberals, Conservatives and independent.

The prospect of going it alone with an elected mayor instead of joining a greater combined authority was also touted by one of the region’s MPs this week.

Conservative Richard Holden wrote that “almost everyone” in County Durham was opposed to “being lumped together with six other local authorities” and that the idea of ​​the vast county having its own mayor would be appealing.

In a blog for Conservative Home, the MP for North West Durham expressed fears that a huge combined authority covering everywhere from Berwick to Barnard Castle could focus “on the metropolitan center of Tyne and Wear”.

Previous talks on a decentralization deal to create a municipal authority covering the council’s seven areas collapsed in 2016 after a split within the region’s Labor-dominated establishment.

Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland then went their separate ways to form their own North of Tyne Combined Authority, for which Labor’s Jamie Driscoll was elected mayor in 2019.

When asked about the possibility of choosing a county mayor rather than a combined authority, Councilor Hopgood told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We are a new administration and we need to discuss this. We are starting from scratch and will be looking at all options, including a county mayor. There is nothing that is not on the table for discussion.

Amanda hopgood
Amanda hopgood

“We have to work by consensus and I think that is the way to go, everyone has to understand what is at stake.”

County Durham also borders several communal areas that are part of the Tees Valley Combined Authority, of which Tory Ben Houchen is mayor.

She was speaking after a North East Combined Authority meeting on Tuesday, in which Sunderland Council chief Graeme Miller said the “LA7” ​​councils “hope to reach a position where we can articulate joint proposals on our government request with regard to devolved funding and powers ”.

There was confusion earlier this month after Mr Driscoll told a parliamentary committee that there was a devolution agreement “on the table” for the seven authorities to meet.

Leaders south of the Tyne have denied this, with Councilor Miller saying any deal was “a bit remote” and Councilor Hopgood saying his administration was “unaware of the details of any such deal and, as that such, Mr. Driscoll does not speak for County Durham.

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