Hampshire leaders still pressing ahead with Solent devolution bid despite PM’s dismissal of mayoral role

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COUNCIL leaders say plans to form a ‘Solent combined authority’ are still alive despite reports that Theresa May wants to scrap the appointment of a mayor to oversee the power group.

Solent authorities have been working with the government on a bid to form a new cabinet with control over government money to spend on major projects.

None of the substance of the deal would change.

Cllr Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council

It’s part of efforts to take away responsibilities from Whitehall and ensure there is more local decision-making.

Former chancellor George Osborne wanted the project to be overseen by an elected mayor who would have the final say over how money is spent locally.

But now reports have emerged that new prime minister Theresa May wants to do away with the position.

And local leaders back the move, insisting it doesn’t change the ‘substance’ of the proposals at all.

Cllr Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council, said: ‘I have just agreed a letter to go to the government which says that if there is to be a debate over whether there should be a mayor, then we would like to have a say because we don’t see a need for an elected mayor in a non-metropolitan area.

‘But it wouldn’t need to change the deal, only the governance. None of the substance of the deal would change. That is the retention of business rates, which is worth nearly £500m a year, the £30m extra a year which we can use to borrow against to fill the £2bn infrastructure deficit in the area, and to designate green belts, which we can’t do at the moment in south Hampshire.’ Cllr Woodward says councils are seeking an answer from ministers over when the plans will be rolled out.

Cllr Mark Hook, Gosport leader, who was against the original mayoral plan, said the position would have meant rolling out an extra salary and ‘additional administrative support’.

Cllr Simon Letts, Southampton leader, added: ‘We could probably carry on just fine without an elected mayor; however, if an elected mayor is needed, we are happy to proceed.’

A FORMER Gosport councillor says leaders must now push ahead with Hampshire County Council’s ‘original plans’ for all councils to come together and secure powers without the need for a mayor.

It comes despite Solent leaders pushing ahead with a south Hampshire approach, as opposed to every council in the county coming together. Ex-councillor Peter Langdon, who stepped down this year, said: ‘It’s the best news for Hampshire we had seen in months. What it means is, the plan between the three cities is put to one side, and we can get back to the county devolution programme.’