North Somerset ‘risks being left behind’ after devolution decision

The Town Hall in Weston-super-Mare.

The Town Hall in Weston-super-Mare. - Credit: Archant

North Somerset Council ‘risks being left behind’ after rejecting a £1billion deal which will go ahead without its involvement.

The Government offered North Somerset, Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) and South Gloucestershire councils more powers over local issues and £30million a year for 30 years.

It would have formed the West of England combined authority, run by an elected metro mayor.

North Somerset councillors rejected the devolution deal by a majority of 39 votes to six last month, raising concerns over the added bureaucracy a mayor could bring.

However, the three other authorities agreed on June 29 to go ahead with the deal without North Somerset.

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North Somerset Cllr Mike Bell, who supported devolution, said: “Council leader Nigel Ashton gambled that the others would not go ahead without us or that the Government would lift their insistence on a metro mayor, but the gamble has failed.

“Now we risk being left behind.

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“Lots of negotiations on transport and employment that are taken now across the West of England will still need to include North Somerset, but we will be outside the combined authority area, so how much influence will we get?

“We will also not get any share of the nearly £1billion in funding over the next 30 years, leaving us with a much-reduced ability to invest and drive growth.”

The other three councils raised concerns over the mayor element as well, but decided in the end that the benefits outweighed concerns over the governance of the area.

Earlier this year, BANES agreed to re-open negotiations with the Government over the mayor proposal.

But it voted for the deal in its existing form despite its concerns.

One BANES councillor said North Somerset must be ‘kicking itself’ for rejecting the deal.

Another said they were ‘disappointed’ by North Somerset’s decision, but that the authorities would still work together on its housing plan.

A North Somerset Council spokesman said: “We respect the decisions made to move to consultation on the proposed mayoral combined authority.

“North Somerset Council remains fully committed to partnership working in the West of England, including progressing the joint spatial plan and city deal investment programme.

“We look forward to discussing with our partners how wider West of England partnership working, including the Local Enterprise Partnership, will work alongside the proposed new arrangements.”

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