Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Commission on Devolution (RG 27)



  The Commission's proposals are based on the assumption that a viable regional structure must provide three fundamental requirements: a sense of identity, effective public accountability and the ability to deliver the services for which it is responsible.

  The Commission believes that it is reflecting a general consensus that the present regional structure in East, South East and South West England does not meet these requirements and hence is unsatisfactory for current responsibilities and cannot be a basis for further devolution of central government powers.

  The Commission argues that the human and urban geography of England does not allow for the imposition of single-form regional structure. Viable regional devolution will require variable structures to match differing geographic and economic realities.

  This submission refers specifically to East and South England but it might well be relevant to other areas outside the ambit of the major provincial city regions.


  1.  The Commission accepts the strength of the case presented by the Core Cities/City Regions for regional structures that reflect the realities of these regional centres.

  2.  However Core City based regions cannot provide a system for all of England, as they would not include very significant areas of the country and populations, principally the South and East.

  3.  The great strength of Core Cities is that they are the focus of their respective functional regions.

  4.  A functional region will have one or more major urban centres that act as the effective regional capital. These regional capitals will provide a range of services for the wider region and not just their urban population. The national capital cannot practically provide these services because of distance (geographic and or cultural). The provision of these services will require regional capitals to be transportation centres.

  5.  Regional capitals will have, or aim to have, one or more facilities of national importance to reinforce their national standing.

  6.  Such functional regions normally cannot exist or develop in competition with a national capital. London in addition to its international and national roles also provides regional services. London's regional influence is psychological and practical reflecting the ability to make a return visit to the capital within a day. This London influenced South-East is a much wider area than the official SE region.

  7.  The South and East of England (excluding London) has none of the characteristics which would enable the development of functional regions:

    —    Its population and leaderships have very little sense of common identity.

    —    It has no regional centre of economic or political strength.

    —    It has no geographic or transport centre other than London.

    —    Its common interests are weak and not generally apparent.

    —    There is little belief that public participation and quality of decision-making would be enhanced by having a regional authority.

  8.  Hence the basis for regional authorities in the South and East of England, must be markedly different from that of city region influenced areas of the country.

  9.  Despite the evidence that full regional centres cannot develop within the South and East, there are recognised, successful sub-regional centres exemplified by Brighton/Crawley; Southampton/Portsmouth; Bournemouth/Poole; Reading/ Oxford; Milton Keynes; Cambridge; Norwich.

  10.  These urban centres provide services for functional sub-regions. These functional sub-regions (FSRs) are substantially larger than travel-to-work areas and their economic drivers are shopping, leisure and commercial services as much as employment. The circulations of local newspapers and broadcasting areas for local TV and radio are important indicators of the extent of a functional sub-region.

  11.  FSRs could be the basis for regional authorities in the South and East of England. As compared with the existing regions FSRs would have the advantages of:

    —    Internal Public recognition and coherence—they are actually areas in which people live and work and hence can relate to;

    —    External recognition—centred on places that have national and, in some cases international, recognition and profile.

  12.  There is a crucial distinction to be made between the sub-regional areas, which can potentially command public recognition and loyalty, and the areas suitable for specific economic development projects. Regional authorities based on functional-sub regions would certainly need to cooperate on a project-by-project basis and agree to work to strategies covering more than one authority. The Thames Valley grouping of local authorities provides a working example of co-operation for specific objectives.

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