Peterborough will get an elected mayor from May 2017 after seven Cambridgeshire councils voted for a new county-wide combined authority.
After months of negotiations, consultation and debate, a devolution deal was finally agreed last night (Tuesday, November 22) as the final two councils signed up for the “once in a generation opportunity.”
The deal will see more than £600 million of funding to be shared among the councils which will each have one representative on the combined authority, alongside a representative from the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGP LEP).
Peterborough has also been told that by backing devolution the Government will allow the city to have its own fully-fledged university.
Councillor John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “I’m exceptionally pleased to move forward with this devolution deal, which is vital to help grow our local economy and shape a prosperous Peterborough for all our residents.
“The new funding and powers unlocked by the deal are essential so that we can invest in our communities by building affordable homes, improving local infrastructure, delivering the skills training needed by local businesses and investing in an independent university.
“This deal should be seen as a major shift in local government with powers being transferred from Westminster to be decided locally here in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. I believe this is only the first step and that there’ll be even greater opportunities offered through future devolution deals, however these must always be in the best interest of our city.”
Under devolution, there will be: a new £600 million fund (£20 million annually for the next 30 years) to support economic growth, development of local infrastructure and jobs, and £170 million for housing, of which £70 million is set aside specifically for Cambridge.
However, it has taken a long time to get this deal agreed, and there remains plenty of opposition to the proposals.
Aside from disdain to the idea of an elected mayor, there are also concerns in Peterborough that the city council will lose its sovereignty, and that Cambridge’s needs will be considered much more than Peterborough’s.
Under the devolution deal, the local transport plan and transport budget will be taken out of the hands of Peterborough City Council, although the authority will get a veto on the final decision.
Earlier this year, devolution was proposed for Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk as part of an ‘Eastern Powerhouse’, but this was quickly shot down by councillors, leading to two separate deals - one for Peterborough and Cambridgeshire and one for Norfolk and Suffolk.
But while this county has given the go ahead for devolution, the deal in Norfolk and Suffolk has collapsed due to the opposition from councillors.
A proposed devolution deal in Lincolnshire has also collapsed.
Cambridgeshire county councillor Steve Count, chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Devolution Partnership, said: “The deal, which has been described by government as one of the best in the country, is just the first phase.
“Devolution for the area will mean we can make the decisions and have the money to start tackling our transport and housing issues that hamper our growing economy.
“Further phases could see the combined authority looking at more funding and powers that will directly improve the lives of our residents, create jobs and tackle deprivation.
“The decision by all seven councils and the GCGP LEP to back the devolution deal will put powers and decisions over funding into the hands of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough communities and away from Westminster.
“Approval by all members involved is testament to a joint vision and represents the support from residents and businesses through the consultation saying they want a greater number of decisions to be made locally.
“This deal allows us to grow the local economy and improve quality of life for our residents. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough needs more investment in housing and infrastructure and this is what this deal will deliver.”
What happens next:
. A final written letter of consent from partner organisations will be sent to the Secretary of State
. A draft order will be laid before Parliament
. Once given the green light by central government, the formation of a shadow combined authority
. Mayoral elections set to take place in May 2017.