Gtr Manchester powers extension plan

First published in News by

PLANS to extend the powers of the club of 10 Greater Manchester councils have sparked a political row in Bolton.

Opposition councillors fear a move by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) to draw up its first constitution could see powers taken away from Bolton.

It would give commissions of councillors and experts and a Business Leadership Council strategic powers over areas including economic development, housing, transport and the environment.

Aims include getting people off benefits and into work and delivering more afforable homes, and some are set out in a Multi Area Agreement which must be agreed by the Government.

Member councils could get greater freedom to borrow money against expected future revenue to fund major regneration and infastructure programmes like road improvement schemes.

And a new Greater Manchester Climate Change Agency would promote use of renewable energy.

Bolton's Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Roger Hayes, said that although there could be a case for more economic cooperation there had been little public debate and it was unclear what AGMA's extra powers would be.

A motion backed by Lib Dems and Conservatives at the last full council meeting said Bolton would oppose any attempt to "bounce it" into a quick decision without full public consultation.

Supporters including Bolton Council leader, Cllr Cliff Morris, say powers would be devolved from bodies like the Government Office North West, North West Development Agency and Learning and Skills Council.

But the plans make it possible for powers to be transferred from the ten councils to the beefed up AGMA if there is agreement from both sides.

Conservative group leader, Cllr John Walsh, added: "I would not want people outside Bolton to have more power over services in the borough than its directly elected councillors."

He added that he feared that a decision on whether to introduce congestion charging on roads into Manchester in return for £3 billion in public transport improvements could be imposed on member authorities under the arrangements.

The Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) bid, which would deliver a new transport interchange at Bolton Station, is still being considered by the Government.

But Cllr Morris said: "This is not about basic services provided in Bolton or having another tier of Government but regional strategies and decisions nobody else is currently taking.

"If we can attract jobs, prosperity and investment into Greater Manchester we are more likely to be able to attract them to Bolton."

Cllr Morris said other councils would not be able to impose their will on Bolton if there was disagreement over the TIF bid.

He said he would oppose any plans at a later stage to extend the congestion levy to the borough.

AGMA hopes to agree the new constitution by April but Cllr Morris added that there would first be public consultation through local area forum meetings.

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