PLANS to create a devolved Greater Essex authority have been shelved because of “strong reservations” among some MPs in the county.

A devolution deal for Greater Essex could’ve seen a combined county authority created.

Residents and businesses in the Essex County Council area, as well the unitary authority areas of Southend and Thurrock, where services are run independently of the county council, would’ve benefitted from greater control over funding and decision-making in areas like transport and the environment.

But the government has pressed pause on the devolution deal after concerns were raised by some of Essex’s MPs.

Gazette: 'Ambitious for Essex' - levelling up minister Jacob Young'Ambitious for Essex' - levelling up minister Jacob Young (Image: PA)

A letter sent from levelling up minister Jacob Young to the Conservative leader of the county council, Kevin Bentley, said the decision to put the plans on hold is despite the government working “closely with local partners to explore the potential of a devolution deal for Greater Essex”.

He wrote: “While there is strong support for this proposition from the local authorities some MPs continue to have strong reservations about the prospect of establishing a combined county authority over the Greater Essex area at this time.

“Given the importance of any devolution deal enjoying broad support, and in light of the fact that we are passing the point in time where a deal could be agreed and implemented in this parliament, the Secretary of State and I have agreed to pause discussions regarding devolution to Greater Essex.”

Mr Young added the government will continue “to be ambitious for Essex”.

Gazette: Hopeful - county council leader Kevin BentleyHopeful - county council leader Kevin Bentley


Mr Bentley told council leaders a devolution deal would bring “enormous benefits for residents and businesses across Essex, Southend, and Thurrock” and that he was pleased to have secured “strong support” from many councils, businesses, universities, and some MPs.

“We are hopeful however that the significant economic and public service benefits of a devolution deal for Greater Essex will eventually be recognised and we can move forward positively in the future,” he wrote.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex, said: “I think devolution would be a good thing in the long run but it’s got to be a consensus decision. There’s a lot the county council can do, short of the deal being signed off, that would prepare the way for this.”

Gazette: MP - Sir Bernard JenkinMP - Sir Bernard Jenkin

David King, leader of Colchester Council, said the council’s work with other local authorities will continue regardless of devolution.

The Lib Dem councillor said: “I’m hugely disappointed that what should’ve been a straightforward closure to a long conversation between the many local authorities across the county has ended in the way it has with a likelihood it might not happen.

“We already work closely with Braintree and Epping on shared services and with Essex County Council on the regeneration of our city centre. We’re working with Tendring and Essex on the new garden community near Elmstead Market.

“We know the benefits of co-operation and devolution would’ve spurred us on to do yet more.”

The Conservative leader of Southend Council, Tony Cox, feels “disappointed” and “sad the deal couldn’t get over the line”.

Mr Cox said: “I think it would’ve been a useful mechanism and I’m hopeful, given time, this might progress forward.

“The ability to draw funding and look at things like regional transport across Essex would’ve been the key thing for me.”

Andrew Baggott, the leader of Basildon Council, however, isn’t sold on all aspects of the deal.

“I could see the benefits devolution would bring to residents if it was approved, but the devil is in the detail,” the Conservative councillor said.

“If Basildon Council lost control of powers like planning control because an overarching authority has control, that would be terrible. I was a little more interested in the previous idea of a mayor because nationally we’ve seen with a good mayor comes benefits.”

He added he thinks the “debate will come back in the next parliament”.

Other areas of the UK have already set up combined authorities, with the North East Combined Authority having been formed in 2014 from local authorities in Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tyneside, and Durham.