Surprise as Sunderland council leader pulls out of North East ‘super-council’ plans

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson
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PLANS for Sunderland to join a combined authority between seven North East councils have been put on hold.

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson said he could not agree to the plans until it was clear what powers the proposed ‘super-council’ will have.

Coun Watson wrote to the Government and asked for a delay in plans to join together the councils – Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The move could see the authorities share functions, while remaining individual, and could see a leadership with power to invest in jobs set up.

A similar council was launched in Manchester which was given the power to decide how more than £1billion of investment would be spent.

Coun Watson’s decision – which was echoed by South Tyneside Council – has prompted calls from senior officials to try to rescue the plans.

The other five authorities put forward a positive joint reply on the Government’s deadline of January 2.

Coun Watson said: “We are being asked to support a new act of Parliament that creates this with no idea if it will have a new multimillion pound head office needed in, say, Newcastle, if it will have any expensive chief executive or what other costs.

“And it could build up a lot of debts which every taxpayer will be responsible for.

“I just cannot agree to something when we have no idea of what it is we are agreeing, and we cannot afford to just let this become another North East Assembly.”

Sunderland’s response has dashed hopes, for now, of a City Deal, which would see an automotive business park, linked to Nissan, built and allow increased tax receipts to be invested into the city centre.

Further talks between the council and Government are expected to be held in coming days.

Coun Watson added: “We will still try and secure something for the automotive park.

“This is a centre for advanced manufacturing, Nissan, quite simply, is the biggest means of recovery for the region, and the Government would be foolish to turn its back on that.”

Coun Watson’s stance has been echoed by Coun Robert Oliver, leader of the Conservatives on the council.

He said details must be sorted so “a genuine regional voice does not become a back door unelected regional assembly” and agreed there were concerns over cost and powers.

He added: “With Nissan powering the Wearside economy, Sunderland must secure a city deal which helps the automotive sector and raises revenue to develop the Vaux site.

“The legislation allows for all political parties to be included in a combined authority through scrutiny committees which North East leaders should support.”