What does devolution actually mean? We see the first draft of the details
PUBLISHED: 09:56 29 February 2016 | UPDATED: 09:56 29 February 2016
Oyster card-style tickets and an over-arching Transport for the East responsible for funding our rail and roads are among plans being considered as part of the East Anglian devolution deal.
The details have emerged in a leaked draft for the so-called “Eastern Powerhouse”, which also demands new tax-raising and house building powers and calls for more property levies to be raised locally to be kept locally.
The small print emerged as leaders yesterday met Treasury minister Lord O’Neill in Westminster to discuss the three-county devolution deal.
The first draft – published on February 18 – comes after months of meetings and talks which has culminated in Suffolk, Cambridgshire and Norfolk councils and business leaders working together.
The eight-page dossier also raises the prospect of giving local authority leaders the powers to impose a new tourism or room levy – which is not currently legal in the UK – a demand to keep half of the stamp duty raised locally, as well as powers to fine developers with planning permission who do not start building.
It comes with a demand for an extra £1billion for the region over the next two years to deliver what they claim would be the first deal which includes both county and unitary councils.
Leaders say they were told yesterday that the Treasury was “excited” by the proposals put together by the cohort of councils, which include the district and county councils of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, along with the Peterborough unitary authority.
Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble said he believed that an agreement to bring devolution to East Anglia could be signed by the end of next week following the Treasury talks.
He sad there would be intense discussions about the elements to be included during the early part of next week – and the result could be the establishment of a combined authority with responsibility for a number of functions including transport and health.
He said one of the main priorities would be working with Highways England to improve the A14 across Suffolk, but other roads like the A12 and A140 also needed attention.
There is already a route strategy being worked up for the A140 in Suffolk and there are improvements needed to the Norfolk end of the road as well, particularly a bypass for Long Stratton.
The county council has already committed resources to building a case for a four villages bypass on the A12 between Wickham Market and Saxmundham.
On health, Mr Noble said there was a need for a combined authority to take a role in co-ordinating healthcare, but he did not necessarily see it taking on responsibility for running hospitals or direct healthcare.
But if there is an agreement next week, Mr Noble said this would just be the start of the devolution process.
“Look at what has happened in Manchester. They signed their agreement months ago and they are still talking about how it will work and what services it will be responsible for.
“If we do get something signed over the next week, it will only be the start of a long journey.”
Ipswich Borough Council’s Labour leader David Ellesmere said the meeting had enabled delegates from the three counties to meet each other and officials from the Treasury – but had not got down to detailed discussions.
He said: “It was really a case to see if we could all get on together and in that we succeeded. It gave us a chance to sound each other out and establish how we could work together.
“At this stage it was not about having detailed discussions on issues. That will happen in the near future.
“The Treasury officials made it clear that we might not get all the funding that we ask for.”
He said more details of the new devolution structure and of what the Government would allow should become clear next week.
The draft proposal document asks the Government to create a 30-year multi-billion pound “Investment Fund for the East”, which it says will unlock investment and deliver economic growth.
Major new housing settlements on the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire border and in Mildenhall on the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk border are also mentioned in the deal.
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