The idea of metro mayors is a good idea. So good, in fact, I think is should be brought to other conurbations, such as the south coast cities of Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton.
Greater Brighton has already got the idea in motion – although it needs more momentum to make it happen and democratise it. The question is what changes in Hampshire are needed for a Greater Southampton or a Greater Portsmouth to exist?
A small bit of backstory. The government had an idea a few years ago to create a Solent City deal, which included South Hampshire and Isle of Wight. The plan fell flat because Hampshire County Council blocked it.
Hampshire today. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
This was the right thing to do in my opinion. The government’s ambition was to rope together a very diverse area with no clear economic heart – it was always going to be a bad idea. Giving the region an extra few million pound a year may have sounded good for strapped for cash councils in the area, but would have met with a lot of opposition and resentment from locals.
Redrawing the county map
I don't ask for much, just to drastically re-shape Hampshire. Image: author provided.
In order to make this happen, Hampshire's county council should be dismantled and all the councils in the county turned into unitary authorities. Various Hampshire councils have applied to create a Southampton City Region, to qualify for transport funding – but the current proposal doesn't include Romsey and Winchester.
This to me is short sighted and arrogant on Hampshire's part. It’s come about in part because Hampshire doesn't want to lose its "capital", but also because these are wealthy areas and they'd rather they weren’t mixed up with the sorts that live in Soton. We should bin that sort of attitude.
The proposed Southampton City Region. Image: author provided.
Much like Southampton, there is a desire for more cross-border partnership in the Portsmouth City Region (PCR), too. Most of the boroughs are established, though I’d favour a tiny bit of adjustment to create a Waterlooville borough and enlarge Fareham slightly. All that’s necessary requires is the breaking up of Winchester council (again) to be reused.
The current proposal includes the Isle of Wight, which I don’t think is a good idea. The city region proposal focuses purely on Ryde, a single town on a sparse island. The resources required to improve connectivity between the island and the Portsmouth region should be a lower priority when there are more pressing issues in the city-region, such as addressing housing and transport between Gosport and Portsmouth.
The proposed Portsmouth City Region. Image: author provided.
I realise that many in Hampshire do not like change: it’s difficult for a traditionally rural county to embrace its metropolitan potential. However, city mayors lead to greater productivity by improving the distribution of resources. The establishment of metro mayors for these cities will tackle issues that have been affecting Hampshire for quite some time: the poor transport and the inequality between different communities.