South Yorkshire mayoral vote still on despite poll findings

A vote to elect a mayor for the Sheffield city-region is still on the cards this spring, despite evidence of strong public support for a 'One Yorkshire' devolution deal in two of its four constituent districts.

Sheffield: city-region mayoral poll still on the cards
Sheffield: city-region mayoral poll still on the cards

Separate community polls organised by Barnsley and Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Councils in the week before Christmas showed around 85 per cent of participants in favour of devolution to a Yorkshire-wide combined authority.

The Sheffield City-Region (SCR) Combined Authority, which includes the two councils, made no official comment on the results, although a spokesperson confirmed that preparations will continue for the mayoral poll currently set for May – a year later than originally planned.  

But Barnsley Council leader Sir Stephen Houghton said his authority will "work to push back" any mayoral election until 2020.

He urged the government to "enter into discussions on a wider Yorkshire" devolution agreement, rather than "imposing" a city-regional mayor "against the will of the people".

Turnout among eligible voters in the polls was 22.4 per cent in Barnsley and 20.1 per cent in Doncaster. "We weren’t surprised by the results, given the messages to the electorate before the polls," said an SCR source.

While accepting that the poll results are not legally binding, Houghton said his council "will do its best to respect the outcome and make sure that the devolution deal that Barnsley votes for is achieved".

He said at least 15 Yorkshire councils, including Barnsley and Doncaster, have said they would support a wider Yorkshire deal.

Doncaster’s mayor, Ros Jones, said: "This result has clearly shown that Doncaster people want a wider Yorkshire deal and that they identify with the county and want to be part of a larger regional devolution story. We will respect this position and would encourage others to do the same."

The Sheffield city-region devolution deal, signed in October 2015, has already been hit by the decision of a number of councils in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to pull out of the agreement.

Sheffield City Council and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Councils – which declined to comment on the Barnsley and Doncaster polls - are the only councils still giving their full backing to the existing deal.

Under this, an elected Sheffield city-region mayor would have powers to create a spatial framework, produce supplementary planning documents, set up mayoral development corporations and have rights to be consulted on or call in planning applications of strategic importance.

Ahead of the polls in Barnsley and Doncaster, communities secretary Sajid Javid wrote to civic leaders in the area offering a compromise requesting South Yorkshire’s councils do "all that is necessary" to implement the existing devolution proposal, while leaving the door open for them to participate in any Yorkshire-wide deal agreed further down the line subject to certain provisos - including arrangements to maintain integration of transport across South Yorkshire.

Jones responded that both Doncaster and Barnsley have made it clear that they are willing to consider "interim solutions" for the Sheffield city-region. "However, we are also now clear about the ultimate destination, which is for Doncaster to be part of a Yorkshire devolution agreement based on the widest possible geography."

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