Sunderland leader holds up North East ‘super council’ plans

Paul Watson
Paul Watson
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PLANS for a North East “super council” are facing another delay due to Sunderland’s reluctance to sign up – having been omitted from papers served to parliament.

Cities minister Greg Clark refused to include the region because Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson will not sign on the dotted line until he gets agreement on the City Deal.

Councillor Watson is waiting for government approval of a £25million investment package, which would be matched by the council, to be invested in an advanced manufacturing park by Nissan. Once this is in place, he says Sunderland will agree.

But Coun Watson says there is no danger that the combined authority – comprising of seven local authorities in the north of the North East, will not come to fruition.

Speaking to the Echo, he said: “The plans are going ahead. It’s just that the North East is not part of the papers that have been laid before parliament at this point.

“The Government is not ready yet to sign off the City Deal for Sunderland. That’s what is holding it up, but we are expecting it will be done within the next two weeks. We would expect the authority to come into force by April 1.”

Plans for combined authorities for Sheffield, West Yorkshire and Liverpool have now been served and a parliamentary debate expected next month.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Any questions about how councils in an area collaborate, and with whom, are matters to be decided locally.

“Where combined authorities are proposed, the government will consider carefully all representations it receives about the proposals before deciding how to proceed.”

It is not the first time Sunderland’s reluctance to agree has threatened to thwart plans.

Earlier this year plans stalled over concerns that the combined authority had ‘no clear rules’ and that it could leave the city disadvantaged. That was eventually resolved when a so-called fairness commitment was agreed to ensure that all seven local authorities would benefit equally from investment.