- Northern England devolution referendums, 2004
The Northern England devolution referendums were referendums starting with the North East region of England, in the United Kingdom, on 4 November 2004. Dubbed by the government the Great North Vote, the referendum proposed that the region should have an elected regional assembly. The voters rejected the proposal by 77.9%, also halting proposals to devolve power in other English regions: the similar planned votes in North West England and in Yorkshire and the Humber were postponed and then dropped.
Options put to vote
The creation of regional assemblies was to be tied to abolition of the existing two-tier structure for local government in these regions; and its replacement with a uniform system of unitary authorities. In areas that currently have two-tier government (Cheshire, County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Northumberland), voters were to be asked which pattern of unitary government they would like to see.
Two options were proposed by the Boundary Committee for each county in the review area - generally consisting of a single unitary authority for the entire county, or a breakup into smaller authorities which are larger than the existing districts. It was recommended that ceremonial counties be left untouched in most cases. This recommendation was broadly (with one minor alteration in West Lancashire) accepted by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Voting was to take place on a per-county council-area basis, except that the Cumbria and Lancashire votes will be run as one — since it would be impossible to have option 1 in one and option 2 in another.
Any changes as a result of the North East referendum would probably have come into effect on 1 April 2006 — to give time for preparation, and taking into account 1 April as the traditional day of local government reform in the UK.
In Lancashire and Cumbria the proposals for multiple unitary authorities were very similar to those proposed by the Redcliffe-Maud Report in 1969. This proposed authorities for North Cumbria based in Carlisle, and one for Morecambe Bay covering Barrow-in-Furness and Lancaster for the north of the region. In central Lancashire there were to be divided into four authorities based on Blackpool, Preston, Blackburn and Burnley. The area of West Lancashire was to be given to Merseyside and included with Southport in a district.
The options were as follows:
Option 1 Option 2 Option A Option B Option 1
- Cumbria Council
Option 2 Option 1 Option 2
- Morecambe Bay
(Lancaster with South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness from Cumbria)
- Blackpool and the Fylde
(Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde)
- Central Lancashire
(Preston, South Ribble and Chorley)
- East Lancashire
(Burnley, Pendle, Ribble Valley and Rossendale)
- Blackburn with Hyndburn
(Blackburn with Darwen and Hyndburn)
- Sefton and West Lancashire
(Sefton from Merseyside, with part of West Lancashire)
(Wigan from Greater Manchester, with part of West Lancashire)
Option 1 Option 2 Option A
- Northumberland Council
The result - North East England
On 4 November 2004, in a turnout of almost 48% using a postal ballot, voters in the North East decisively rejected the proposed regional assembly. The reasons for this result are varied, however it is felt that the regional power would have been concentrated in an Assembly situated in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which given the strong historic rivalries between urban centres in the North-East was an unpopular choice of venue. It vehemently supported by the dignitaries of Newcastle itself, which created further tensions. Notwithstanding this, in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne local authority area itself the majority of votes cast were against the proposal. It was also felt that not enough of a case had been put forward for the necessity of the Assembly, and it was feared that it would add another layer of politicians and public servants, thereby increasing taxes for the citizens of the areas affected.
Yes: 197,310 (22.1%)
No: 696,519 (77.9%)
Local authority Yes No Turnout* Alnwick 2,771 11,666 57.4% Berwick-upon-Tweed 2,250 8,597 52.3% Blyth Valley 7,523 21,178 45.5% Castle Morpeth 4,776 16,952 57.2% Chester-le-Street 5,487 15,610 49.5% Darlington 4,784 32,282 49.0% Derwentside 9,718 22,888 49.1% Durham 9,791 24,106 48.3% Easington 8,065 21,520 42.5% Gateshead 17,011 52,459 49.3% Hartlepool 4,887 24,240 42.9% Middlesbrough 7,977 33,543 42.1% Newcastle upon Tyne 19,984 61,477 46.4% North Tyneside 15,203 55,121 50.7% Redcar & Cleveland 8,493 43,250 50.6% Sedgefield 9,040 23,583 48.3% South Tyneside 11,329 41,029 46.3% Stockton-on-Tees 11,050 52,040 48.3% Sunderland 17,927 71,893 43.4% Teesdale 2,020 8,972 56.9% Tynedale 5,146 20,975 55.4% Wansbeck 5,947 15,503 46.6% Wear Valley 6,131 17,635 49.9% Totals 197,310 696,519 47.7%
* Valid and rejected votes divided by electorate.
The related votes in Northumberland and County Durham on local government changes became moot, though new single merged unitary authorities were later established based on the county council areas (i.e. Option A in each case) as part of the 2009 structural changes to local government in England. The votes had been
County Option A Option B Turnout* County Durham 89,149 87,050 47.1% Northumberland 51,560 66,140 50.2%
* Valid and rejected votes divided by electorate.
Similar referendums had been planned in North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber. These were postponed on 22 July due to issues with all-postal ballots - there were many allegations of fraud and procedural irregularities. Following the rejection of the proposal in the north east of England the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the time, ruled out holding further referendums in other regions for the foreseeable future.
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