A planned combined authority to create jobs and boost the economy across the North East could miss its April 1 deadline.
The House of Commons yesterday approved proposals to create new combined authorities for South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Merseyside.
But the proposed North East authority, which will include seven local councils, was not included – and there is so far no date for when the new body will receive approval.
The delay is a result of a wrangle earlier in the year when Sunderland briefly blocked the scheme, warning that it was unclear what powers the authority would take away from existing councils.
The new North East combined authority will include Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle Upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland, and ensure that authorities work together on issues affecting the region, such as major investment in transport schemes or job creation.
The seven leaders, and their chief executives, will share decision making over skills, transport and investment, have the chance to secure control over any devolved Government budgets and a say in how the region bids for the £2bn Government Growth Fund.
Earlier this month, Cities Minister Greg Clark told The Journal that the combined authority would be “a very important step towards the North East being able to punch at its weight rather than below its weight.”
But there is now uncertainty over whether a planned launch date of April 1 can be met.
Coun Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council and chair of the North East Leadership Board, said: “We expect formal confirmation of the timescales for the legal process necessary to create the Combined Authority for our area in the very near future.
“It may be the case that this work cannot be completed to allow the authority to launch by April 1, but what is most important is that it will go ahead and that will bring considerable economic benefits to residents and businesses in this area.”
The Commons yesterday approved an order from Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles authorising the creation of three combined authorities in other parts of the country.
But the order for a North East authority - officially named Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle Upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland Combined Authority - remains “on the order paper”, meaning it is due to be discussed by the Commons but no date has been given.
It now falls to Cabinet Minister Andrew Lansley, the leader of the Commons, to announce when the order will be approved. In theory, the order could also be referred to a Commons committee. A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The draft Order for Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland Combined Authority was not laid originally with the other draft Orders, due to delay in obtaining consent from all councils.
“The draft Order was laid on 13 March 2014 and we expect debates to be scheduled in due course.
“The Order to establish the Combined Authority is subject to Parliamentary approval; once approved by Parliament the Order can then be made and the authority established.
“The local authorities involved understand the issues and Parliamentary process. We are in regular contact with them and understand that they are working to be ready to start as soon as the Order is made.”