'Looking at all options' - County Durham to debate having its own mayor
A new twist in the North East’s devolution saga could see County Durham push for its own elected mayor rather than linking up with neighbours.
There have been hopes that seven local councils either side of the Tyne could reunite under a new mayor covering Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Gateshead, and County Durham – with a deal potentially unlocking £500m of government cash for desperately-needed transport upgrades.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that individual counties could now be given the chance to elect their own mayor under the Government’s Levelling Up plans rather than having powers and funding devolved to figureheads covering larger city regions.
Durham council leader Amanda Hopgood says her authority “will be looking at all of the options, including a county mayor” as its new political leadership decides which path to pursue.
Coun Hopgood, a Liberal Democrat, took over as council leader in May with the authority now run by a coalition of Lib Dems, Conservatives and independents.
The prospect of going it alone with an elected mayor has also been touted by one of the area’s MPs this week.
Conservative Richard Holden wrote that “almost everyone” in County Durham opposed “being lumped in with six other local authorities” and that the idea of the vast county having its own mayor would appeal.
The North West Durham MP has expressed fears that a huge combined authority covering everywhere from Berwick to Barnard Castle could have a “narrow focus on the metropolitan centre of Tyne and Wear”.
Previous talks over a devolution deal to create a mayoral authority covering the seven council areas broke down in 2016 after a split in the region’s Labour-dominated establishment.
Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland then broke away to form their own North of Tyne Combined Authority, for which Labour’s Jamie Driscoll was elected mayor in 2019.
Asked about the prospect of choosing a county mayor, Coun Hopgood said: “We are a new administration and we have to discuss it. We are starting from scratch and we will be looking at all of the options, including a county mayor.
“There is nothing that is not on the table for discussion.
“We need to work in consensus and I believe that is the way forward, everyone needs to understand what is involved.”