Solent councils push ahead with combined authority without Hampshire

Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight are pushing ahead with plans to create a combined authority to secure a £900m devolution deal for the region despite Hampshire County Council refusing to take part.

The proposed body, which would have an elected mayor, would work with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership to deliver a draft devolution deal that includes £30m a year over 30 years to invest in growth and housing, business rates retention, powers to create a spatial plan and control of a dedicated transport budget.

The three councils will now assess a governance review making the case for a combined authority. It will go before Portsmouth's cabinet on 8 July, the Isle of Wight's executive on 14 July and Southampton's full council on 20 July.

The Isle of Wight had originally joined Hampshire in rejecting the devolution plan because of the Government's condition that the region adopt an elected mayor, saying it is not the right model for a "large, diverse and extensively rural area".

But Cllr Jonathan Bacon, leader of the Isle of Wight Council, said that with the Government making it clear that no other extra funding will be available, being part of the combined authority is a "necessary step".

"The Island has recently been told by the secretary of state for communities and local government, Greg Clark MP, that no extra money will be found for the Isle of Wight to meet its current financial difficulties prior to the Government's Fair Funding Review in 2019-20," he said.

"It is, therefore, important that we remain at the table and pursue steps that may enable us to obtain a share in the pot of £900m that has currently been set aside for a local devolution deal."

Cllr Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: "After months of working together, Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight councils are now in a position to start formal consultation with the public about securing greater spending power and responsibility for the Solent area, subject to each council's formal approval.

"This would see the creation of a new combined authority with enhanced powers over roads, the skills agenda and housing delivery. We have been working with the Government for the last three months and have managed to secure £30m a year, promised for a 30-year period, to develop the roads and sites for employment and housing. This is excellent news and a really positive and exciting step forward for the people of South Hampshire."

Cllr Simon Letts, leader of Southampton City Council, said: "We have been clear all along that a deal to devolve powers, funding and decision making from central government to the local area is in the best interests of businesses and people living in Southampton and the wider region.

"We are disappointed that despite our best efforts to persuade them, Hampshire County Council will not sign up and support our bid to double the size of the regional economy. However, even without their support, and subject to the governance review and the cabinet's approval, we will continue to proceed with our plans for a combined authority and secure a more prosperous future for the people of this city."