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Will London-style devolution work elsewhere in the UK?


The levelling-up white paper proposes a new framework for devolution for England. Unlike previous devolution deals, this sets a deal for “every area of England that wants one”, underpinned by four principles: effective leadership, sensible geography, flexibility, and accountability. So will the extended planning powers of London-style devolution work elsewhere in the UK?

Being based in the Midlands, I will be interested to see how this expands on the 2015 ‘devolution deal’ that created a metro mayor. Andy Street has been in post since 2017. Viewed through a lens of development, his tenure can generally be regarded as a success as he regularly champions the region and has the ear of government ministers – although his role as MD of John Lewis failed to prevent closure of its central Birmingham store.

However, his powers are relatively limited. If they were expanded to have sway in planning decisions, we might see that he is not afraid to make a populist political statement – for example, regarding the allocated Eastern Green site in Coventry. If his scope were to include a greater geographical area – for example, more rural green belt authorities within the West Midlands housing market area – would this successfully serve the quite different needs of ‘shire’ districts, compared with nearly three million people whom he currently represents in the metropolitan county area?

“The differences between such a large urban area and its surroundings would be too great a dichotomy”

On this basis, I don’t believe an expansion of the current West Midlands mayoral area would be a success.. I cannot envisage how rural South Staffordshire could be a ‘sensible geography’ with urban Birmingham or Coventry. Conversely, there could be a move towards a single tier of local governance whereby county cities (such as Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Worcester) are reintegrated with their historic shire counties and hinterlands. There are familiar ties with communities surrounding these shire ‘hub’ cities that would more likely fit the bill of sensible geography. A mayor would also help raise issues that often get lost in the bureaucracy of the two-tier system of local governance, by creating a single, accountable institution.

Turning back to the West Midlands and the proposals for more powers for the mayor, the answer is not ‘London-style’ powers at this time.

Neal Allcock is a partner with Carter Jonas in Birmingham

Image credit | Shutterstock


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