Should Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire have one mayor?
- Credit: Archant
A multi-million pound pot of cash to pay for roads, rail and housing projects will be handed over to an elected mayor for East Anglia under plans set out in the chancellor's budget.
Elections for the powerful new political figure could be held next year if councillors give the green light to the deal worth £30m each year for the next 30 years for infrastructure, and a further £175m up to 2021 to kick-start housebuilding.
But he could yet face a backlash from backbench councillors opposed to the idea of an elected mayor and those concerned the deal does not go far enough.
Alan Waters, the leader of Norwich City Council, said the deal would be the basis for negotiation over the next few months.
'We are keen to consult widely with businesses, local communities and partners to test whether this is the right devolution deal for Norwich. We will also continue to negotiate the mayoral model and alternatives.
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'We are particularly concerned about housing. At the moment, there is money earmarked in the draft deal for housing across three counties. However, we don't believe this is large or flexible enough to allow us to build council houses in the city.'
Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, said that while it was an exciting announcement, there was still a lot of work to be done.
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'We need to view the chancellor's statement as the start of the process of working up the details, engaging the public in the debate and discussing the draft agreement in each of our councils.'
But communities secretary Greg Clark said there was no downside to signing up.
'It is all upside. This is new money that is available. The functions of the councils continue in the same way. There is no change to city councils or county councils. It is all money and powers that have come from central government. This is a deal which backs the further success of an already successful area,' he said.
Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia local enterprise partnership, said the deal would give them greater influence, control and decision-making power over vital areas of the economy, from creating jobs, boosting skills and supporting businesses to building homes.
'We want to attract the brightest and the best to the East, to live, learn and work here. Devolution offers us a way to achieve our ambitions and showcase our great industries from offshore energy and ICT and creative digital excellence to world-leading agri-tech research nationally and across the world.
'But it is business that will drive the growth, create the jobs and spark the innovation, so they must continue to be at the heart of devolution discussions over the coming months including discussions on the role of a future East Anglian mayor.'
A local business leader also backed the deal. Lindsey Rix, managing director of Aviva's UK and Ireland general insurance business and member of the local enterprise partnership, said it would give the region the opportunity to invest in a modern transport infrastructure which would benefit local businesses.
'The economic potential in the East is huge and the new freedoms can be used to help grow the economy faster in key areas such as finance and the digital revolution. This is a great opportunity for the region which will give us a stronger and more powerful voice.'
Mr Clark said there would still be opportunities for the region to bid for national funding – but the money earmarked yesterday was being put into the hands of local people.
He backed the plans for an elected mayor claiming he or she would act as a link to the prime minister, the chancellor, the transport secretary, rather than a group of councils with a common interest.
He said the Mayor of London had been crucial in brokering the multi-million pound Crossrail schemes on behalf of London boroughs.