Portsmouth referendum could dictate whether super authority goes ahead

Portsmouth City Council Civic Offices in Guildhall Square
Portsmouth City Council Civic Offices in Guildhall Square
Iain Duncan Smith speaking during a visit to Portsmouth

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A CITY-WIDE referendum could determine whether a combined ‘super authority’ should serve the Solent region.

Portsmouth Lib Dem members yesterday put forward the case that residents should decide whether the concept should go ahead.

It would see council leaders – including Southampton’s – come together in a separate organisation to lobby for greater powers and money from the government to make improvements in the area.

City councillors agreed in principle to a referendum – and Tory council leader Donna Jones said she will meet group leaders in the coming weeks to see how it would work.

Lib Dem councillor Matthew Winnington, putting forward the referendum plan at a full meeting of Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘It’s essential a decision of this magnitude has the consent of the people of Portsmouth.

‘It would be done properly, openly and give people the opportunity to vote how they would normally.’

But warnings were raised a referendum should not happen any time soon given the idea is still fresh and virtually unknown.

And it was said the £108,000 cost of the referendum quoted by the Lib Dems – which they said should come out of the council’s resources portfolio – seemed excessive and needed scaling down.

Tory councillor Steve Weymss said: ‘While I would like to support a referendum, it’s far too premature to put that to the public because they won’t know what a combined authority is.’

The Lib Dems suggested that the city council should have a power of veto over decisions the Solent authority would make.

But Cllr Jones and Labour group leader Cllr John Ferrett said the council should explore first whether a veto was viable and lawful, and that it should not affect working relationships with other councils.

‘We need the combined authority, we need to explore new ways of thinking,’ Cllr Ferrett said.

Their proposal was agreed despite opposition from the Lib Dems, who felt the city should lobby for a definite veto and all members should decide whether Portsmouth should be a part of the authority and not just the cabinet.

Cllr Jones admitted she was still unsure whether the whole idea would work.

‘Do I want a combined authority – I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Do I think it’s right and proper for Portsmouth – I don’t know.’

She added: ‘A referendum is too early at this time, but it probably will happen.’