Doubts emerge for ‘Eastern Powerhouse’ as opposition forms

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne outside No 11 Downing Street, London, before delivering the Budget Statement in the House of Commons. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire PPP-150807-153329001

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne outside No 11 Downing Street, London, before delivering the Budget Statement in the House of Commons. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire PPP-150807-153329001

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Last week Peterborough was guaranteed a university if it signed up to a greater East Anglia authority with an elected mayor. But that deal is now in doubt after widespread opposition to the proposals.

The so-called ‘Eastern Powerhouse’ suffered a big setback when Cambridgeshire County Councillors on Tuesday unanimously rejected the government’s offer of devolved powers.

The council is now asking its leader Cllr Steve Count to try and renegotiate a better deal with the government, but with 22 councils in Cambridgeshire (including Peterborough City Council), Norfolk and Suffolk needing to approve the terms on offer for it to become a reality, much work is still needed.

Opposition to the plans has also come from Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, who told the House of Commons: “I think at the moment they don’t stack up. I think we have not had enough information.”

Mr Jackson said the announcement in last week’s Budget by chancellor George Osborne felt “quite rushed,” adding: “I think that Peterborough City Councillors really should have the opportunity to debate the current proposals and I suspect that they would take a similar view to their colleagues on the county council.”

City councillors have already criticised the deal which would see £30 million a year for the next 30 years spread across the authorities, with a further £175 million to boost housing.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Nick Sandford believes Peterborough would be left “on the fringes” under the current proposals. He said: “The Liberal Democrats and also some Labour councillors have put in a request for an extraordinary council meeting. Having a full meeting would be an opportunity for everyone to put their opinions forward.

“If we can have a briefing, why can’t we have a meeting?”

Cllr Ed Murphy, a Labour and Co-operative member, went a step further than Cllr Sandford and called for the resignation of council leader Cllr John Holdich who had signed up for further debate on the Eastern Powerhouse.

Cllr Murphy complained that there had been a lack of consultation and transparency on the proposals. But Cllr Holdich stated: “I’ve done nothing that the other leaders have not been consulted on. All leaders encouraged me to take this to the next stage.”

The combined authority has already been rejected by Cambridge City Council and The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership.

Mark Reeve, chairman of the LEP, said: “£30 million a year for 30 years to tackle the many infrastructure challenges we face is simply not enough. In the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area alone over £2 billion is needed to tackle the most pressing challenges our area faces.”

He added: “Covering an area that in width is the equivalent of London to Bristol with a single mayor just doesn’t add up for us.”

According to the Eastern Daily Press, a proposed visit by Chancellor George Osborne to East Anglia to promote the deal will now not go ahead.

The paper added that Norwich City Council leader Alan Waters, one of the frontrunners to be the region’s first elected mayor, is opposed to the idea.

A Peterborough City Council spokesman said a request for an extraordinary council meeting was received last week. He added: “We have now asked councillors to submit a proposed motion that they would like to debate at this meeting. On receipt of this motion the mayor will make a decision on whether the meeting is called.”

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The government announced an ambitious devolution deal with East Anglia. It is now for local partners – including Cambridgeshire County Council – to debate and consult on the deal and agree, by the end of June, if they wish to become party to the deal.”