The boundary between Hull and the East Riding is an issue in the local media again, but the suggestion, this time, is to do away with the boundary altogether and merge Hull City Council and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council!
THE FINAL REPORT of the Hull Commission was published yesterday. The independent inquiry, commissioned by Hull City Council in March 2014, was established to review the effects of the existing boundaries on the development and regeneration of Hull and the sub-region. It initially had a target-date of reporting back by April 2015, but this proved difficult for the Commission who were keen to avoid the heightened political divide which had presented itself in the run-up to the General Election in May 2015, they wished to allow more time for consultation, and significantly they say, wanted to be able to incorporate the impacts of the rapidly-changing devolution landscape nationally.
The headlining conclusion of the report was that Hull and the East Riding are interconnected and should seek a fresh way forward together; that ‘fresh way’ would be as a merged authority. The existing boundary between Hull and East Riding has the effect of making Hull look like a small city of 256,000. When the real size of the city’s travel-to-work area and the economy of ‘Greater Hull’ is included then we are talking about a city of around 500,000. The boundary, argues the report, skews the statistics and the way that the area is perceived, and works against the ability of this larger sub-region to function effectively as a single economic unit.
Moving the boundary further into the East Riding would be highly unpopular says the report and mentions once in the Executive Summary the referendum held by East Riding (in September 2014) which “showed that moving it would attract public opposition.” The only “logical option” says the report, is to resolve the boundary issue by merging the two local authorities. The removal of the boundary would overcome the opposition to redrawing it.
The report makes a strong case that merging the authorities would make it easier to join up the economic development and infrastructure strategies pertinent to the larger area and develop more effective arrangements for health and social care commissioning. The Chair of the Commission, Tom Martin, puts this more starkly: “Hull has a huge potential for economic development, the East Riding currently provides much of the space for this to happen and in turn Hull provides the key urban facilities for much of the whole area.”
Single policies, strategies and operational management plans are needed for Hull and East Riding argues Tom Martin. But to bring that about significant change is needed: “This would require bravery on the part of politicians and communities in both areas,” he argues, “but we believe the end prize would be well worth the effort.”
In arguing for the merger of Hull and the East Riding, the report also recommends that Hull avoids entering any combined authority without the East Riding and similarly that the East Riding should avoid entering any combined authority arrangement without Hull. Its preferred option is to see a combined authority focussed around the economic opportunities presented via the development of the Humber.
So where does that leave local people? What are we to make of the Hull Commission Final Report?
The report itself recognises that the political realities on the ground make its proposed solutions inoperable at the present time. The Hull City Council and the East Riding Council have very different political leaderships. And the results of the Boundary Referendum in September 2014, although played down by the Hull Commission, are indisputable: On a 75% turnout, 96% of people voted to protect land and green open spaces in the East Riding separating the county from Hull, from being built upon. It will be very difficult for any ‘brave politician’ in the East Riding to now suggest that such land is released for economic or other development. Even supporting the basic premise that actually Hull and East Riding do have a common future together would take an element of political courage.
The appeal of the Hull Commission Final Report is very much aimed at the business community particularly those organised through, and excited by, the possibilities of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership. The follow-up to the report will be further “appropriate” consultation with this and other groups. On the other hand there is very little in the report to excite local community activists; nothing that serves to inspire people in the East Riding that the cause of merging the two local authorities will transform lives and is worth pursuing.
During the Boundary Referendum campaign in 2014, the Hedon Blog made a public appeal for someone in support of “Greater Hull” to come and defend that position at a public meeting in Hedon. Nobody responded to that challenge. And in that, lies the main problem with the Hull Commission Final Report – it will have no champions in the East Riding.
The concept that ‘Hull and the East Riding are two parts of a single economic, social and environmental system which needs leading and managing as one unit’, is probably common-sense. The opportunities provided by the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and devolution are there to grasp. But the steps to go beyond what Tom Martin refers to as the ‘political minutiae’ and seize opportunities presented by regional, national and international stages, look set to falter on those very political issues.
Read and download the Hull Commission Final Report from INLOCGOV (University of Birmingham):