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A mess of pottage? North of Tyne devolution criticised by professor

Coun Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, Norma Redfearn, Elected Mayor for North Tyneside,  and Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council.
Coun Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, Norma Redfearn, Elected Mayor for North Tyneside, and Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council.

A university professor has criticised the proposed North of Tyne (NoT) devolution deal, saying only the thinnest of gruel is on offer.

The scathing piece has been written by John Tomaney, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning in the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London.

The devolution proposals for Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside were announced last November and include unprecedented new powers and a £600million investment fund.

The deal is expected to generate £1.1billion for the local economy, create 10,000 new jobs and leverage £2.1billion in private sector investment for the North of Tyne.

Residents will also have the chance to vote for a new directly-elected mayor who will have new powers in housing, planning and skills.

A consultation period is open until Monday, February 5, and the Secretary for State must ensure the deal meets statutory requirements before the new combined authority can be established.

But in an article entitled A Mess of Pottage – meaning something immediately attractive but of little value – a critical Professor Tomaney writes: ‘There is a good chance that the NoT deal will discredit the case for devolution, confusing the public, adding complexity to urban governance and delivering few noticeable material improvements.

‘Like other devolution deals, the NoT one was agreed largely behind closed doors. Consultation is under way, in which the local officialdom will back the deal, but most local voters are in the dark.

‘The case for devolution is strong in principle, but what is on offer is the thinnest gruel.

‘The proposed deal does not meet the Government’s own definition of appropriate devolution arrangements.

‘Most of the urban region is excluded from the deal – in areal terms, most of the NoT is rural, including the remotest parts of England.

‘In fact, North of Tyne is a misnomer; one of the principal settlements in Northumberland – Hexham – is located south of the Tyne.

‘Far from providing clearer city-region governance, the deal adds further complexity, for instance, in the management of Tyne and Wear Metro, which extends south of the Tyne and as far as Sunderland.’

He added that because the NoT area has a population of 800,000, compared to 2.8million in Greater Manchester or the West Midlands, the NoT Mayor ‘will command less legitimacy and political-economic weight in their own area as well as with the other metro-mayors and national government’.

However, Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson has defended the potential deal. He said: “The reason we want a NoT devolution deal is because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for our area to reach its full potential and take control of its own future.

“The economies of Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle are intrinsically linked and the fact we are able to take decisions in the best interests of our area locally with local accountability is an essential first step.

“It gives us the chance for a step change to a new, more prosperous, confident and forward-looking county. It also gives us the chance to create opportunities for young people. It is simply untrue to suggest that it fails to comply with legal requirements.”

Coun Scott Dickinson, chairman of Northumberland Labour Group, has mixed views on the deal, but believes the benefits outweigh the negatives. He welcomed aspects of the deal, including ‘exciting opportunities around education’, but says the requirement for a mayor is not ideal.

As part of the consultation, an event is taking place at Alnwick’s Northumberland Hall on Tuesday, from 2pm to 4pm. Visit www.northoftynedevolution.com/consultation