A huge row that has engulfed the region’s political leaders for months is on the verge of being resolved after metro mayor Dan Norris appeared to back down.
The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) Labour mayor has announced he will be dropping his claim to a veto on decisions that involve North Somerset following new legal advice.
Mr Norris overrode proposals backed by the four council leaders at a meeting of the joint committee – WECA plus North Somerset – in September, based on legal advice shortly before it began.
The following month’s meeting was then boycotted in protest by fellow Labour mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees, South Gloucestershire Council Conservative leader Cllr Toby Savage, Bath & North East Somerset Council Lib Dem leader Cllr Kevin Guy and North Somerset Council independent leader Cllr Don Davies.
Backed by all four of their monitoring officers, they insisted the metro mayor was using this power “unlawfully” and refused to attend amid concerns that any decisions could be challenged.
It meant up to £60million for green projects and the recovery was put on ice as there were not enough voting members in attendance.
The impasse led to former local enterprise partnership (LEP) chairman and UWE vice-chancellor Professor Steve West being appointed as mediator earlier this month to try to end the dispute, but even rearranging the date of the October meeting proved enough to reignite it.
However, it has now been reported that WECA’s chief executive Patricia Greer has written to the four local authorities to say the legal advice they have received has changed.
Mr Norris said: “The legal advice confirms that there has never been an issue with West of England Combined Authority meetings.
“These are the important meetings that decide what we spend. I look forward to seeing the three council leaders at the next combined authority meeting scheduled for early December.
“We urgently need to vote through the green recovery plan. This will be the third time I have introduced this.”
He said the region must not get a reputation as “climate delayers” by not acting now on the climate emergency, so there was no reason they could not vote on this.
“On the joint committee, where the combined authority meets alongside North Somerset, who are not members, we have now had new conflicting legal advice from previously,” the regional mayor said.
“I am therefore more than happy not to exercise any vetos at the next joint committee meeting in late December.
“As a region we receive extra financial support because we opted into a metro mayoral model, shown recently with our successful half-a-billion-pounds city regional sustainable transport settlement.
“I firmly believe that devolution allows us to take decisions that benefit local people more than with councils alone.
“My priorities right now are those projects that benefit our residents most. I will do everything I can to protect our ability to get extra money and resources for our amazing region.”
A meeting of the WECA committee, comprising the two mayors, Cllrs Guy and Savage and LEP chairman Richard Bonner as a non-voting member, has been scheduled for Friday, 3rd December, at Keynsham civic centre.
The joint committee, which for the last couple of years has met simultaneously with the WECA committee as it is the same but with the addition of Cllr Davies, will meet separately two weeks later at a venue to be decided.
Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter