Coventry people 'need voice' on combined council plan

Coventry's city centre
Image caption Council leader Ann Lucas said the proposal was about moving power "from Whitehall to the West Midlands"

Residents "need a voice" on Coventry's plans to join a proposed West Midlands combined authority, says a woman petitioning the city council.

Rachael Bermingham's petition calling for a referendum so that residents can decide if the city joins up has been signed by more than 3,100 people.

Mrs Bermingham said it was a very important decision which deserved "the proper exercise of democracy".

The council said there was no legal requirement for a referendum.

A spokesman said that a statutory process ahead of any proposal about a combined authority would include consultation, while the government "will make the final decision".

'Second fiddle'

The Labour group which runs the council voted to support the move in principle last week but the matter will be discussed further at a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Patrick Burns, Political Editor, BBC West Midlands

All this talk about the "Northern Powerhouse" seems at last to be concentrating minds in the West Midlands. The combined authority proposed six months ago by four Black Country councils plus Birmingham now has the support of Coventry's Labour administration. Their Conservative counterparts in Solihull, always the most reluctant partners, have agreed to recommend their authority should join in too.

Solihull's participation would be crucial because a Midlands powerhouse which did not include Birmingham Airport, the National Exhibition Centre and a potential high-speed rail interchange would be something of a nonsense.

The prize being held out by the chancellor is unprecedented devolved political and spending power worth billions of pounds, along the lines of that already being handed over to authorities in and around Manchester.

With it would come extra clout for local decision-makers in important areas like housing, transport, skills and planning. In return, they may have to stomach a "metro mayor". Despite overwhelming evidence that such a move is generally unwanted here, George Osborne is adamant that the new-style regional boss is a "pre-requisite".

Councils controlling Birmingham, Walsall and Wolverhampton are among those who have backed the plans.

The petition says that many residents are concerned about Coventry "playing second fiddle to Birmingham, as it did in the old West Midlands County Council days".

Mrs Bermingham, 63, said she remembered the county council providing "an additional layer of authority and bureaucracy" until its end in 1986. She believes the development of Coventry's city centre was among areas which lost out.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Birmingham has one of the largest local authorities in Europe

Mrs Bermingham, a retired civil servant and mother of a daughter, said she was "shocked and surprised" to read that the council supported the plan which would "have an impact for decades" and should involve extensive public discussion.

She hopes the petition will get at least 15,000 supporters, meaning the issue is debated at a full council meeting under council e-petition rules.

Council leader Ann Lucas has said it was about moving power "from Whitehall to the West Midlands" - not from Coventry to Birmingham, and that councils working together could make the best decisions about major investments for the area.

What do people in Coventry think?

Image caption People in Coventry have different opinions on what a combined authority would bring to the city
  • Wayne Stubbs, 51, who works as a carer, said: "It should always be down to the people to decide something like this.
  • Ewelina Waliczek, 32, an insurance consultant, said: "A referendum is a good idea so we can see the advantages and disadvantages clearly set out.
  • Barry Rourke, who is retired, said: "Coventry by itself is dying. You go to the market and you see empty stalls and shops now.

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