County council leaders protest at Chesterfield and Worksop joining Sheffield
Council chiefs in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are fighting plans for two of their districts to join Sheffield under its devolution deal.
The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has written to senior government ministers objecting to plans for Bassetlaw - which includes Worksop - to become a full member of Sheffield City Region Combined Authority.
County council chiefs in Derbyshire are objecting to plans for Chesterfield Borough Council to join up and are seeking a judicial review to have a consultation exercise quashed.
Sheffield City Region is powering ahead with a pioneering £1.3bn devolution deal and an elected mayor from May 2017. It is set to have powers over public transport, adult skills, business growth and major planning and investment projects. Devolved cash is already being spent through a £222m infrastructure fund, £17m Skills Bank and a £50m Growth Hub.
Alan Rhodes, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, wrote to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, Nottinghamshire MPs and business leaders.
He said: “The proposal makes no sense from a customer or governance perspective and I fear that, rather than leading to better economic outcomes, public services and improved governance in Bassetlaw, it will have a detrimental effect in all of these areas.
“I acknowledge that parts of the Worksop area do share some economic interests with Sheffield City Region, but I’m afraid the same cannot be said for the vast majority of the Bassetlaw District. Towns like Retford, Tuxford and surrounding rural communities have little economic, cultural or social connection with South Yorkshire and I really fear their interests are not being taken into account.
“I have always been a big advocate of devolution and moving decision-making and resources away from the Westminster bubble and into the hands of local people who have a much better understanding of local issues and priorities. But for devolution to work, it has to be done in the right way and on the right terms and I believe that Bassetlaw joining the Sheffield City Region deal will be bad for local democracy, not improve it.”
Sheffield City Region’s public consultation on devolution closes on Friday August 12.
Derbyshire County Council is seeking a judicial review to have the exercise quashed for being ‘insufficient and therefore unlawful’.
Leader Coun Anne Western, said: “If these proposals go ahead, it will affect the people of Chesterfield and Derbyshire for generations to come and yet the consultation doesn’t tell the full story or ask the right questions – so how can people give an informed view?
“We don’t believe the proposals are in the best interests of anyone living in Derbyshire – least of all people living in Chesterfield.
“I know we’ll be criticised for taking this action by some who claim it’s not the best use of money. But the fact is that if Chesterfield becomes a full member of Sheffield City Region it will undoubtedly be at a huge financial cost to Derbyshire County Council – and therefore Derbyshire taxpayers – in making our services fit in with new arrangements for Chesterfield, not to mention around £1m in business rates from Markham Vale which would all be transferred to Sheffield City Region.
“It’s a big decision with no easy way back if Chesterfield becomes a full member of Sheffield City Region and I don’t want local people to wake up one morning, realise what’s happened and ask ‘Where was the county council in all of this?’
“Chesterfield is Derbyshire’s biggest town, most people who live there also work in Derbyshire and they don’t want to become a suburb of Sheffield – which is effectively what will happen if these plans go ahead. We need to act now and send out a strong message to help put a stop to these proposals or risk Chesterfield spending the next 30 years living in South Yorkshire’s shadow.”
Chesterfield council leader John Burrows, who supports the move, said the new plan would result in “more than £18m worth of investment into development in the town and consideration for all the new investments coming forward”.
A spokesman for Sheffield City Region said: “We are clearly disappointed that a legal challenge has been raised on our consultation process and we are currently taking legal advice.”