A revised devolution deal for the West of England has been fully backed by Bristol City Council, Bath & North East Somerset, and South Gloucestershire councils.
One of the most significant changes is that the first term of the region’s directly elected mayor will now be four years instead of three.
Papers which went before the three councils yesterday said there had been “a strong challenge from government” that the first term should be three years as it would create “an efficiency saving with other elections” such as the planned 2020 general election.
However, the papers added the government had since “agreed with our politicians that a four-year first term will be preferable”.
Some restrictions on the mayor’s powers have also been added to the region’s parliamentary order, which was approved by the three councils yesterday.
The mayor “will not have a vote” on the combined authority’s treasury management and investment strategies.
The production of a mayoral spatial strategy is to be delayed until May 2018 to allow the continued development of the area’s joint spatial plan. This also includes North Somerset Council which pulled out of the devolution deal earlier in the year. The mayor will not be able to exercise their power to call-in planning applications relating to strategic infrastructure, such as roads, bus lanes, and flood defences, until the spatial strategy has been adopted.
The original deal said the mayor would gain control of some major roads across the region. The government had requested the mayoral combined authority to statutorily define the key route network but as it is not yet in existence it is not able to do so.
A “light touch process has been agreed” in the interim so the mayoral combined authority will be able to enter into agreements with local highway authorities and contractors to carry out “certain works”. A revised order could be considered once the mayor and combined authority have “set the principles” of the key route network, the papers said.
Meanwhile local leaders had been pushing for powers similar to those available to mayor of London, such as the ability to enforce moving traffic offences. The papers said: “We see these as critical to successfully delivering the likes of clean air zones. The government position is that this is not being devolved anywhere now but they are open to further discussion.”
Now that the parliamentary order has been supported locally, the legislation will need to pass through the Commons and Lords before it receives royal assent. That is all expected to happen before parliament rises on 20 December for the Christmas break.
The plan is to get the West of England Combined Authority up and running from February. The mayoral election is due to take place in May.
The West of England’s devolution deal will see the region gain powers over transport, planning, skills, and employment as well as control of an investment fund worth up to £900m over 30 years.