Norfolk and Suffolk devolution backed by public – but mixed messages on a regional mayor

Andy Wood. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Andy Wood. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

More than 10,000 responses have been received to the public consultation on devolution proposals in Norfolk and Suffolk – with most people backing proposals for the government to hand back power to local bodies.

However there views on the proposal for a regional mayor were mixed – in an opinion poll 54pc of respondents backed the idea, but an online survey showed 62pc of people were opposed to the proposal.

The results were published as councils across the two counties start an autumn of considering what the public response should be to the devolution proposal.

And they have come out as speculation continues in Westminster that the new government led by Theresa May is not as committed to elected mayors as that of her predecessor David Cameron.

The latest round of discussions about devolution has been co-ordinated by Adnams boss and former Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Andy Wood.

He said that the consultation showed a clear desire for more local control: 'People want decisions made about housing, building new roads, and where new bridges are needed, to be made by people who know the area.

'I have to say I have had discussions in Whitehall who have not been aware Great Yarmouth is Norfolk, they think it is in Suffolk – or who get Suffolk and Sussex confused.

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'Given that I am not surprised people want important decisions made at a local level.'

As well as individuals the responses also included contributions from business, local authorities, and other bodies like universities and health providers.

More than 6,000 people were contacted by Ipsos-Mori for the statistically-significant opinion poll and a further 3,000 took part in the online poll organised by the two authorities.

Mr Wood said the questions reflected the fact that the government's current position was that an elected mayor was a necessity before devolution could be considered – but accepted that support for this proposal was not clear cut.

Councils will now consider these findings at meetings over the next two months and consider what to recommend to the government.

The previous Chancellor, George Osborne, had said mayors would have to be elected next May – but many councillors opposed that proposal and there have been strong hints from Whitehall suggesting that requirement could be dropped by his successor Philip Hammond later this year.