Merseyside devolution: the politics of planning

Election fever has well and truly started, with politicians of all parties hitting the campaign trail in order to take shots at each other's policy proposals. In Liverpool, however, it is infighting amongst the Labour ranks that is making the biggest headlines.

At the end of 2014 the Liverpool City Region looked set to be on the road towards more devolved power and the establishment of a Metro Mayor who would oversee housing policy, transport control, police budgets, education and major infrastructure projects. However, this now looks less likely after council leaders in the region have clashed over the plans.

On New Year's Eve, it was reported that the plans for devolved powers for the region were in jeopardy after the leaders of both Knowsley Council and St Helens Council expressed concern that that the proposals would not involve a referendum.

In light of this, Joe Anderson, the current Mayor of Liverpool, has spoken about his anger at these latest developments, claiming that the two leaders were bringing the region into disrepute by going back on promises to discuss the proposals with no preconditions.

Sadly, these events are now familiar for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. In April 2014, the authority nearly imploded after an argument between council leaders broke out over who should hold the position of Chair, whilst between January and February in the same year, the name of the authority could not be agreed, with various suggestions being raised by both the Government and these leaders.

It has been suggested that these arguments have more to do with personality than policy, with the ambitions of the individual local authorities and characters of the Liverpool City Region spilling out into conflict.

If this is true, then the politicians leading the Liverpool City Region need to take a long, hard look at developments down the M62 in Greater Manchester where the combined authority was offered a similar devolution deal by the Government and agreed to it. As a result the area is now going to receive control of billions of pounds worth of public money, with power over various services such as transport, social care, education, police enforcement, and housing.
Of course, there were internal disputes over this agreement, with politicians expressing doubts over whether a Metro Mayor for Greater Manchester would work and whether such a role was necessary. However, a consensus eventually agreed by the three main parties.

Sadly, this may not happen in the Liverpool City Region, where the politics of personality seems set to derail this massive opportunity. Joe Anderson recently spoke of his frustration that Manchester was set to steal a march on Liverpool by accepting its devolution deal. Unless an agreement is reached there is real danger that this could become true.

So, what does this mean for those working in property, regeneration and similar sectors within the Liverpool City Region, particularly those that are looking to grow positive relationships with the key opinion formers and decision makers?

The politics of personality is prevalent across Merseyside, with some very strong-minded but inspirational individuals holding the majority of decision-making power. These are the people that need to be approached in order to establish good working relationships. By doing this, those wanting to invest in the Liverpool City Region will minimise the danger of potential projects becoming a political football being kicked around in order to score points with the electorate.

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The Liverpool City Region has come a long way in a short period of time but its leaders really do need to step up to the mark, put petty rivalries behind them, and see the bigger picture for the wider city area (including the suburbs that rely on it for employment)to reach its full potential.

By Paul Blackburn