ESSEX County’s support for a new Thames Crossing in Thurrock is the latest blow to plans for an Essex-wide combined authority, says the borough’s Council Leader, Cllr John Kent.
He said Thurrock was now keen to work more closely with Southend and without the rest of the county to attract new powers from government.
Cllr Kent was speaking at Wednesday (10 February) evening’s meeting of the council’s cabinet discussing combined authorities and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP).
He said: “It is now over a year since we agreed, with Southend Council to look at a combined authority and since then we have committed considerable time to try and achieve our devolution ambition through the Greater Essex devolution project.
“Five months ago we signed a letter agreeing to continue those discussions. That letter set out very clear terms for our continuing involvement – based on growth areas, and for us that is South Essex, governance must result in decisions being taken locally, not in Chelmsford, and there must be alignment with the federated area of SELEP.”
But he warned he and colleagues were not at all convinced the Essex-wide proposal was the best way forward for Thurrock, adding: “There are moves to undermine the SELEP federated structure, governance models are emerging that centralise rather than localise, and despite our efforts the growth area focus is still missing.”
Cllr Kent said: “It is difficult to see how Thurrock’s best interests can ever be served through Chelmsford-based decision-making, it did not work in the past and will not work in the future.
“The County Council’s unqualified support for Highways England’s preferred Lower Thames Crossing route, entirely within Thurrock, is just the latest example.”
He and his cabinet colleagues have now asked officers “to review where we deploy our time” in order to best deliver Thurrock’s Growth Strategy.
He asked: “What can we realistically achieve through Greater Essex devolution that we cannot achieve through the South Essex Growth Partnership, through SELEP or through the government’s fresh impetus on Thames Gateway?
“Will the time we spend in Greater Essex ever give us value for money?”
He concluded: “I would like to reiterate the position we reached a year ago and produce a Thurrock/Southend devolution proposal, one that works for Thurrock businesses and Thurrock communities, something not designed to sit in isolation but to fit alongside and shape our work with partners – whoever those partners may be.”