Hampshire borough council leaders hit out at county deal plans

Leaders of borough councils in Hampshire have criticised ‘county deals’ – such as that being pursued by Hampshire County Council at the moment.

By Toby Paine
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 2:01 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 2:02 pm

The county deal would see Hampshire given ‘devolution-style’ powers, passed on from the government.

This week county council chief executive Carolyn Williamson said that a county deal would help Hampshire stave off the worst aspects of any coming recession – but the Hampshire version of the deal is still subject to negotiation between the county, and borough and district councils.

But now borough leaders have pointed to a new report which says that the public trusts their authorities more than larger organisations.

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Fareham Borough Council leader Councillor Sean Woodward Picture: Keith Woodland (140521-262)

The 1,000 monitor is a biannual report written by South East Councils to digest the views, concerns and expectations of residents, businesses and councillors.

A majority (39 per cent) of respondents said that district/borough councils should receive greater powers from central government over county councils.

Some 56 per cent said that planning and building decisions should be taken at the district level rather than county, regional or national authorities.

The results echo concerns over the government’s proposal to create Combined County Authorities - stripping powers away from lower-tier councils through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

Councillor Nicolas Heslop, chair of South East Councils said: ‘Consistently, polling evidence from the south east shows that communities prefer local government structures and trust in district and borough councils remains high.

‘Over the past six months, we’ve seen a steady increase in support for local authorities as a greater proportion of respondents indicate their preference for decisions to be made locally.

‘Metro Mayors and county deals are not popular in the south east and the public’s trust in district and borough councils should be recognised as this new policy takes shape.’

Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council said the poll results are not surprising.

‘People like to have decisions that affect them taken as close to them as possible.

'That is because they know that decision-makers who live in the area understand the issues and are therefore best placed to decide on planning and building matters.

‘We need more powers devolved locally and we do not want or desire the creation of new layers of governance and elected mayors to do it.

‘We have local councils who have been delivering for local people for centuries and they are best placed to do more.’

Cllr Peter Chegwyn, leader of Gosport Borough Council also welcomed the poll, stating that planning decisions are best taken by councillors who know the area well.

‘The county council is too remote and important decisions on Gosport's future should not be taken by councillors from Aldershot or Basingstoke who don't know Gosport and may never have set foot here.

‘The government's plans for combined county authorities would be a disaster for local democracy.

‘We should be returning real power to local communities, not concentrating power in huge combined authorities.

‘I agree with Councillor Heslop on this, let's give power back to the people so local people can decide what's best for their local area.

Cllr Alex Rennie, leader of Havant Borough Council added: ‘The South East Councils report again highlights that residents want local services delivered by local authorities based in the communities they serve.’