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Greater Birmingham plans hit resistance in Coventry

2015-05-23 09:49:22

Lady Godiva StatueLady Godiva statue in Coventry

Plans to create a Greater Birmingham are being met with resistance in Coventry where more than 2,000 have signed a petition calling for a referendum.

Many people have reacted angrily to Coventry City Council’s ruling Labour group voting unanimously to support plans to pursue an alliance with Birmingham and the Black Country.

Many, including the opposition Conservative group, said they would prefer an alliance with Warwickshire alone.

The petition, posted anonymously, and directed at city council leader Ann Lucas, says: “Coventry City Council is supporting the proposal that it, alongside other Warwickshire councils in Coventry and Warwickshire’s Local Enterprise Partnership, joins the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and Black Country LEP to form a West Midlands Combined Authority.

“Despite the fact that many residents have concerns about Coventry playing very much the second fiddle to Birmingham, as it did in the old West Midlands County Council days, our council is not intending to canvas the opinion of residents through a referendum.

“I do not believe that such a decision about the city, which will have an impact for decades ahead, should be made without full consultation and an extensive and public discussion of all the pros and cons.”

A combined authority is a combination of local councils which have joined together to receive increased powers and funding from central government and make joint decisions over issues such as economic development and transport.

Labour fear an alliance with Warwickshire alone would not be big enough to attract desired powers from Westminster.

But those fears were not backed up by undersecretary of state for local government, and Nuneaton MP, Marcus Jones who said a Coventry and Warwickshire combined authority would be seriously considered by government.

The move to form a West Midlands Combined Authority gained a major boost as Solihull’sruling Conservatives signalled their plans to sign up.

Senior Coventry Labour sources said that Solihull’s position would be “vital” in the eventual decision made by Coventry City Council.

Solihull’s commitment means all seven major metropolitan authorities are prepared to join forces and opens the door to establishing an authority across a region of almost four million people.

But there are still tensions and a number of difficulties need to be settled – including the name of the new body.

There are also concerns over equality after the insistence of central government that combined authorities must accept a Boris Johnson-style regional metro-mayor in order to be granted desired powers.

There could also be conflict over housing policy between the densely populated urban areas and those with green belt.

But Solihull Council leader Bob Sleigh said authorities should put their differences aside for the greater good.

He said: “It also comes from an understanding that in order to achieve Solihull’s wider ambition for sustainable economic growth the borough needs a high performing regional platform of a scale and geography that attracts the significant inward investment needed to satisfy that ambition.

“I am convinced that an ‘economic plus’ model, which includes skills and infrastructure, requires regional devolution at the right scale.

“I remain clear on the areas which need further discussion, they lie around, economic growth and how it’s delivered, how we develop a skilled workforce to support the creation of jobs, business support by way of readily available advice and support and transport inter-connectivity across the region.

“This will be underpinned by a single investment vehicle whose purpose will be to attract public and private finance to target the places where economic growth can best be delivered.”

The petition against Coventry joining Birmingham in a combined authority can be found here.

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