04 Sep 2017

The West of England Combined Authority (the WECA) was established pursuant to the West of England Combined Authority Order 2017 (SI 2017/126) (the Order).

WECA is made up of three constituent councils: Bath and North East Somerset Council, Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council (the Constituent Councils).

The Order establishes the role of West of England Mayor (the WofE Mayor) (Article 5). Conservative Party Candidate Tim Bowles is the first WofE Mayor following an election on 4 May 2017.

WECA's functions primarily relate to transport, planning, economic development and regeneration, and funding.

Powers

Transport

WECA takes over several of the Constituent Councils' current passenger transport functions, including formulating policies for, and the eventual delivery of, public passenger transport services (Article 8(1)(a) of the Order).

WECA can enter into highways agreements with the Constituent Councils in their individual capacities as local authorities and local highway authorities, for instance for the carrying out of highways works or the improvement of highways (Article 9(1)).

Planning                                                                                 

The Order authorises WECA to prepare, adopt and amend its own "spatial development strategy" (SDS) to deal with matters of strategic importance to the Area (Articles 10 to12 of the Order). The SDS is the responsibility of the Constituent Councils and the WofE Mayor, and can only cover the WECA's area.

WECA has compulsory purchase powers for planning and housing purposes, including for regeneration and infrastructure (Article 19(1)(a) and (d)). WECA may exercise in its area the compulsory purchase powers already available to the Homes and Communities Agency (the HCA), or WECA's Constituent Councils' planning and housing CPO powers. The expropriation powers are shared rather than given away – the HCA and the Constituent Councils can still exercise their respective compulsory purchase powers just as they could before WECA came into existence. The Order stipulates that before commencing the CPO process, the proposal must be approved at a WECA meeting by all the WECA members whose council area contains any part of the land subject to the proposed compulsory acquisition (Articles 20 and 22(3)).

Housing

Several powers to provide homes, regenerate land and deliver supporting infrastructure are devolved to WECA from the HCA, with the HCA retaining the right to exercise these powers concurrently (Articles 18(1) and 19(1) of the Order).

Economic development and regeneration

WECA has a general power of competence under section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 for the purposes of economic development and regeneration (Schedule 5 of the Order) concurrently with the constituent councils (Article 25(2)).

WECA has powers to encourage visitors and provide conference facilities (Schedule 5, paragraph 2), to provide education and training for those over 16 (Schedule 5, paragraph 3), and a duty to prepare an assessment of economic conditions (Schedule 5, paragraph 4).

Other powers

The WofE Mayor has a wide power devolved from central government to make grants to the Constituent Councils for specific public expenditures to carry out WECA policies (Article 7(1). The grants will be the main means of distributing the funds provided by central government for local development. The Constituent Councils may be individually responsible for paying some WECA costs (for instance for the WofE Mayor's designated political adviser under the Order), if the WofE Mayor or WECA decides not to meet those costs from other resources available to WECA (Article 6).

WECA has the power to instigate and defend legal proceedings (Article 26(c)). It has a duty to maintain a pension fund for the benefit of those employed in local government services (Article 29).

Decision making

The constitution

Each Constituent Council appoints one of its elected members to be a member of WECA (Schedule 1 of the Order).

WECA's members will vote on all WECA decisions that are not reserved for the WofE Mayor. Generally decisions are taken by a majority, which must include the Mayor, of the members present and voting on a particular question, where each member has one vote. Some decisions, including those related to the constitution, borrowing limits and treasury management, require a unanimous vote.

For a WECA meeting to be quorate, at least three members are required to attend, and they must include the Mayor (or his deputy acting in his place).

Powers of the Mayor

The following decisions are reserved exclusively for the Mayor (Article 22 of the Order):

  • functions relating to local transport plans
  • to pay any of the Constituent Councils a grant towards a specific expenditure
  • functions to publish the SDS, dealing only with matters of strategic importance
  • to call in planning permission applications for development of potential strategic importance
  • functions relating to mayoral development areas.