Threat to North East supercouncil as Sunderland Council leader backs out

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PLANS for form a combined authority in the North East could be halted after the city council leader withdrew his support.

Labour councillor Paul Watson said he “cannot agree” to the plans to merge the region’s councils when it is not know yet what he is agreeing to.

He said he cannot sign up to a new organisation stretching from the Scottish border to Durham because few people want it, and as yet it has no clear limits on what power it will take from Sunderland and other councils.

The City Council wrote to the Government asking it to delay plans to join together the region’s seven councils – Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

And the decision, on Friday, prompted calls from senior officials, and Lord Adonis, to try and rescue their plans for a combined authority which would create a new leadership board with the legal power to invest in job creation, while not abolishing individual councils.

The Government had asked the seven councils for their response to a combined authority by January 2.

Five put forward a positive joint reply, while South Tyneside Council is believed to have given its own qualified approval.

Sunderland’s response has dashed hopes, for now, of a Government-backed City Deal for Wearside, which would see a new automotive business parked, linked to Nissan, which could create thousands of jobs and allow increased of tax receipts to be put back into the city centre.

Coun Watson, said: “I have serious concerns about the cost of this.

“We are being asked to support a new act of parliament that creates this with no idea if it will have a new multi-million 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 tax payer 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.”

He added: “We have already been told that at the present stage of negotiations the city deal will not see us gain any extra funds, there is no money we have been told, and we will not get the borrowing powers Newcastle got.

“I don’t know what the city deal is then, really. 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.”

Talks are set to continue next week, both between local leadership, the civil service and the City Council.

Twitter: @Monica_Turnbull