Regional assemblies to be axed

Councils will be charged with helping the region's economy once unelected regional assemblies have been scrapped, ministers have revealed. The East of England Regional Assembly (Eera) will be phased out from 2010 and its powers handed to councils and to the East of England Development Agency (Eeda).

Councils will be charged with helping the region's economy once unelected regional assemblies have been scrapped, ministers have revealed.

The East of England Regional Assembly (Eera) will be phased out from 2010 and its powers handed to councils and to the East of England Development Agency (Eeda).

Local government minister John Healey told the House of Commons that ministers would consult on giving councils a new duty to boost economic growth.

He said they would consider options for extra business rates which could be imposed locally.

Mr Healey said the aim was to “give local authorities and communities greater responsibility and opportunity to boost economic growth in their area; to bring consultation and planning for jobs, homes, investment and the environment closer together... and strengthen public scrutiny and accountability of regional plans and the work of regional development agencies”.

Two-thirds of Eera members are councillors, with representatives from business, churches and community groups making up the rest. Its four main roles are: planning, including drawing up the region's spatial strategy and having a say on major applications; economic development; speaking up for the region; and scrutinising other regional bodies.

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Chris White, acting chairman of Eera and a Hertfordshire county councillor, said regional assemblies should have been elected bodies.

He said the main power being given to councils was the power to scrutinise Eeda, but said: “Eeda has shown itself relatively impervious to scrutiny. If we don't like that it is putting too many houses in a particular area, they may say, 'So what?'”

He added it was not clear whether it would be county or district councils that would take on the new powers, though it was likely to be county.

“Whitehall does not understand us out in the sticks and they think in terms of single-tier London boroughs,” he said.

Eeda chairman Richard Ellis said: “This is a positive move... More powers will go down to the local level and there will be more democratic scrutiny of us, from parliamentary committees and councils.

“We are already challenged with developing the region's economic strategy; now we will be given the responsibility for creating a single regional strategy which will be economically led but will also take in planning and transport.”

South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser said he was pleased regional assemblies were being abolished, but disappointed that unelected development agencies would get some of their powers. This will do nothing to give local communities a greater say on where housing should be built, or what transport priorities should be.”

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