Written by James Wood
Senior Account Executive
It’s fair to say the path to Southern Devolution has been a bumpy one. Serious proposals for a ‘Southern Powerhouse’ have been in the pipeline for well over a year now, but disagreement between council leaders in Hampshire and goings-on in Westminster have threatened to scupper the plans. Over time, the fault lines have appeared resulting in the emergence of what appears to be two opposing factions.
Both sides in this political game are now ready to roll the dice on their proposals - the first move being the launch of separate public consultations. With the major players revealing their hand, it’s game on for the people of Hampshire. After all, it’s local residents who will be the winners or losers in this contest.
The original proposal for a Southern Powerhouse was due to be announced in the Chancellor's budget in March but was delayed when Leader of Hampshire County Council Councillor Roy Perry, announced that the Council could not confirm its membership in the timescales set by the Government.
Questioning whether there was widespread public support for the plan, one of Councillor Perry’s main bones of contention was the Government’s stipulation that a new combined authority must be headed by an elected Mayor. Councillor Perry objected to this on the basis it would entail an additional layer of unwanted administration and that responsibility for overseeing the new joint authority would be unmanageable for a single individual.
The ensuing months have seen councils in the Solent region – Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight councils, in conjunction with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership - devise a fresh bid for Solent devolution. Meanwhile, Hampshire County Council has been hatching its own plan for reorganisation of the region. This political manoeuvring has culminated in recent weeks with both sides launching separate public consultations on their devolution proposals. With the proposals now on the table, the wider public are now being urged to express their views on the plans, but we are far from the crescendo of this political drama.
Solent Devolution seeks to negotiate a deal with the government that will secure £900m in funding for infrastructure, transport and housing over the next 30 years. However, devolution wouldn’t stop at funding. By de-centralising decision-making with the creation of the Solent Mayoral Combined Authority (SMCA), it is hoped that new powers for the Solent will help drive prosperity in the region. Under the plans, the councils would continue to operate as separate entities, but would also have equal representation on a board lead by an elected Mayor.
According to the proposals, the SMCA would work to create a single Spatial Plan, thus delivering a significant amount of continuity in the region’s approach to housing and transport. The SMCA would also have the power to set housing targets, while each constituent authority would continue to produce their own Local Plans to guide future development in their district. Importantly, establishing the SMCA would not remove the authority over planning that individual local councils currently possess.
Councillor Perry, however, has objected to the proposal. Commenting that they “devolve very few powers down from central government but would transfer, and therefore split, some of the county's key services such as highways and transport.”
Meanwhile, consultation on Hampshire County Council’s proposals includes considering a total of seven options for the future of governance in the region. These options range from the creation of a new super-authority to deliver services across Hampshire, including Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, to the amalgamation of Hampshire County Council and the regions district and borough councils to create up to four new unitary councils.
A report by Deloitte, commissioned by Hampshire County Council, suggests that the creation of a new unitary structure for local government in Hampshire could cut council tax for the majority of Hampshire households, streamline services and deliver savings that, on their estimates, would be at least a third more than the £30m offered by the Government to a SMCA. According to the report, Option A, which creates a new unitary authority incorporating Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, promises to offer a greater level of conerminsoity between the authorities and other public services. However, given the Solent’s bid, it is Option D that currently appears the most politically viable.
What’s more, the County Council’s plans have been dubbed “localism in reverse” by Leaders of the councils backing the Solent proposals, including Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils. They argue that creating a large and unwieldy authority for Hampshire does not represent devolution of power, but rather a reorganisation of the existing structure of government in the region at the expense of outcomes for local people.
With the political wrangling looking set to continue for some time, it’s now over to the residents of Hampshire to make their voices heard. Let consultation commence!
Solent consultation runs from 22nd July – 18th September.
Hampshire consultation runs from 27th July – 20th September.
If you would like more information on how southern devolution could affect the planning process, contact us.