Directly elected mayor could oversee major change in South Essex

Residents across South Essex may soon have the power to elect a mayor who will help revitalise the region with tens of thousands of homes and 100,000 new jobs.

Councils across the region have outlined their plan to create a South Essex Combined Authority, which would be led by a directly elected mayor who would be in charge of economic development.

The goal is for authorities in Southend, Thurrock, Basildon, Castle Point, Brentwood and Rochford to work together to create more jobs, better transport infrastructure and build tens of thousands of new homes.

This would include the creation of 100,000 new jobs by 2050, improving infrastructure with better education and health services, creating an integrated transport system, building 96,000 new homes by 2038 and offering more than 5,000 apprenticeships each year.

Rather than individual council leaders simply working together, the combined authority would see the introduction of a mayor who is elected by residents living across South Essex.

The mayor’s powers would be dependent on a devolution deal agreed by central government but council documents explain negotiations will centre around better digital infrastructure, such as 5g, major improvements to public transport, more control over housing and improvements to education.

There will also be discussions about environmental and health improvements, town centre improvements and more commercial development for local jobs.

Similar combined authorities already exist in places such as Manchester where Andy Burnham oversees county-wide planning strategies, a £300m hounding investment fund, acts as police and crime commissioner, and has powers over criminal justice, waste management and transport.

The Labour leader of Southend Council, Ian Gilbert, said: “Despite limited funding and resources, councils across south Essex have been on the front foot for the last three years to collectively discuss and plan for how we can tackle the big issues that we face as a region.

“This includes how we can deliver better infrastructure, new housing and new jobs, and gain the amount of funding that will be needed to do it properly and create and drive prosperity in all our communities.

“The partnership has written to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, setting out its ambitions for south Essex.

“A prospectus for investment and recovery is set to be submitted to Government later this month and ahead of the national Budget and Spending Review that takes place later this year.”

The councils also hope extra powers from Government, along with more joined-up planning, will boost their ability to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Plans explain the South Essex economy has been “more vulnerable” to the issues created by the coronavirus due to a high number of small businesses, self-employed workers and industries which are less suited to home working.

One forecast predicts the region’s economy will shrink by 8.5 per cent in 2020 and 12,000 jobs will be permanently lost as a result of the pandemic.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter