The rosettes are being dusted off, the leaflets are printed, and the tele-canvassing is underway. It’s that time of the year again, and after a year’s hiatus, a sense of normality is returning with the arrival of election season in the UK.
It’s a massive year for English devolution, with eight metro-mayoral positions are up for grabs. Making its debut, the West Yorkshire Mayoral race. But, with a little over five weeks until polling day the Mayors powers have been tweaked again, stripping the position of its strategic planning powers and ability to raise a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff.
Will this dilution of devolution have an impact on the Mayor’s role and influence? What does this mean for planning and development in the region? And will this undermine the already shaky devolution process?
In short, there will be no West Yorkshire Spatial Strategy. At least, not yet.
Across the Pennines, Greater Manchester has been grappling with its own Spatial Framework for a number of years now, and some will breathe a sigh of relief that the political challenges brought on by this, won’t be experienced in West Yorkshire.
However, this also presents a missed opportunity for the new Mayor to pull resources and work closely with local authorities to make a real difference in the region’s planning strategy, delivering on housing targets.
This issue won’t be going anywhere, and certainly one to keep a close eye on when the Planning White Paper is revisited later in the year.
As a newly elected post, the Mayor will be challenged to establish the position as credible. For devolution to be successful, the Mayor must be more than a symbolic figure, but one that has been empowered to make a real and tangible difference in their communities.
This recent announcement on planning and infrastructure tax raising powers will raise the question of whether devolution without revenue-generating powers is really devolution at all? Some will argue that without genuine revenue generators this is simply the decentralisation of central government funds.
Across the nation, metro-mayors have spent the last few years moulding the Mayorship into a position of authority and power. Some have been more successful than others. The task is to establish the Mayor as a national figurehead who has real influence over regional policy and even central government decision making.
In this regard, the West Yorkshire Mayor has a difficult job on their hands. They must simultaneously establish credibility amongst the electorate whilst positioning themselves as a figure head for the region to the rest of the nation. The Government adds another challenge to the future Mayor when it can be argued to be stripping them of powers only weeks before the election.
Devolution is not a one-time event, but rather a process which needs to be given time to find its feet. The election on May 6th does not complete the journey, but is a starting point for establishing a meaningful delegation of power away from central government. As such, the postponement of powers epitomises the slow but important journey we are embarking on.
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