Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fears over 'backdoor' regional assembly

Fears over 'backdoor' regional assembly
Sunderland Echo
13 December 05

A SUPER Newcastle should be given millions of pounds to oversee housing, transport and economic development in the region says a think-tank.

The radical suggestion is being seen as a possible "backdoor" regional assembly but has reportedly been welcomed by local government minister and South Shields MP David Miliband.

He has been exploring new ways of raising the economic profile of the North East and closing the wealth gap between the region and the South East.

The ideas come after the decisive rejection of the regional assembly idea last year.The New Local Government Network (NLGN) thinks millions of pounds of Government money should go to the North East through what is known as the "city region" and the "obvious" choice for the North East is Newcastle.

It has fuelled suspicions Sunderland and Durham could be marginalised if the changes gather pace.

Neil Herron, who campaigned against the regional assembly as North East Against Regional Assemblies (NEARA) and the People's No Campaign, said: "I think we'll have to wait and see if this is a pseudo-assembly but the European Union wants city regions which makes it easier for funds to be channelled into an area and that weakens UK government. It could be a 'backdoor' for a regional assembly with big city structures in the North East – Tyneside and Teesside – alienating less vocal parts of the region."

"Instead of centring more power on Tyneside, local authorities should be co-operating more closely."

Authors of the NLGN report said: "Unlike existing local authorities, city regions would bring scale and more readily identifiable presence.

"The NGLN urges the more natural city regions of England to be brave and blaze a trail, to set aside existing vested interests and to demand a louder voice for their wider community."

Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are seen as "obvious" city regions with Newcastle-Gateshead, Bristol and Sheffield also contenders.

The report suggests, too, that cash earmarked for ONE NorthEast, the regional development body, should go through the "city region".

Because the system of councils in the North East would stay the same, suggests the NLGN report, there woud be no need for a referendum before powers are handed over.

Leader of Sunderland City Council Bob Symonds, who sits on the One NorthEast board, said: "As far as I'm concerned it's only a report and the NLGN has come up with ideas in the past, such as elected city mayors, that have not exactly been a great success."

If the report comes into the public arena we will deal with it then. Sunderland already has an exceptioanl record of economic development that is second to none and puts us ahead of anywhere else in the North East."

1 comment:

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