Hartlepool councillors give go ahead for new Teesside elected mayor
Final approval for a new regional elected mayor as part of a Â£450 million devolution deal has been given the go ahead by Hartlepool councillors.
An extraordinary meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council was held to debate the powers and functions of the post which is tied to the newly created Tees Valley Combined Authority, of which Hartlepool is a member.
Councillors voted by a majority in favour of granting consent for an order setting out the remit of the mayor to be made in Parliament.
Gill Alexander, chief executive of the council, said it was the “final piece in the jigsaw” paving the way for devolution and unlocking £15 million a year funding over the next 30 years.
It is also said to be worth £500 million in investment over the next five years.
But the process was slammed by opposition councillors as undemocratic.
Under devolution, decision making powers for employment and skills, transport, planing and investment will be transferred from central Government to the Tees Valley Combined Authority.
Ms Alexander said: “It will make some important decisions on finance previously determined by Whitehall and certainly if we are not at the table we won’t be able to influence those decisions.”
Councillor Ray Martin-Wells said the Conservative group was “diametrically opposed” to an elected mayor for Teesside but reluctantly supported it due to the promise of extra funding and fact that the council could veto decisions of the combined authority.
Independent Coun Paul Thompson said: “£15 million between five local authorities per year on the acceptance of an elected mayor is not a good deal.”
He also questioned the need for a mayor if member councils can block decisions and said the costs of the office were still unknown.
Putting Hartlepool First councillors David Riddle and James Black sought a referendum on the issue but were told by chief solicitor Peter Devlin it was too late.
Coun Riddle accused a number of Labour councillors, including leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, of hypocrisy after previously speaking out against elected mayors.
“What we are doing tonight isn’t democratic,” he said.
Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “It’s not for me to make decisions based upon what my own belief is but what’s best for Hartlepool.
“We have got the opportunity of making more decisions currently undertaken by central government.”
UKIP group leader Coun John Tenant said: “Be under absolutely no illusions, this new body could actually one day replace local councils and dilute connections between local councillors and their ward residents.”
The first mayor is due to be elected next May. They will act as the chair of the combined authority with responsibility for a consolidated transport budget.
They will also create new Mayoral Development Corporations and lead a land commission to identify publicly owned land and other key sites for investment.
A number of decisions will require majority support of the five council leaders and the mayor while others have to be unanimous.
An amendment proposed by Coun Shane Moore was added that any levy proposed by the mayor that affects Hartlepool residents be decided by Hartlepool council first.