02 Dec 2022
What is a metro mayor?
A metro mayor is the directly elected leader of a combined authority. Combined Authorities are made up of neighbouring local authorities. Some are known as city regions. The local councils who make up the combined authority will co-operate on key areas, such as transport, planning and economic development, but these vary from region to region.
Mayors have important powers they can use to ensure their regions are as climate and nature friendly as possible. By taking action at a regional level, they can also show the national government where the communities’ priorities lie, what can be done, and how we expect them to follow suit.
Over 20% of England’s carbon emissions are produced in areas governed by metro mayors and Combined Authorities. Whoever is elected as the next mayor can’t single-handedly solve the nature and climate crises, nor the pandemic, but must use the powers they have to make as big a difference as possible.
There are seven metro mayors in England; Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, and West Yorkshire, plus the London Mayor.
The origin of metro mayors
Metro mayors were established through the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. The legislation set out the responsibilities of the metro mayor and their accountability.
The government's devolution agenda aims to address the imbalance of the economy in England and the supposed under-performance of some of the country's major cities.
While the development of devolution deals and metro mayors has been initially focused on the bigger cities outside London, the government’s stated intention is to roll out metro mayors to more areas around the country.
To establish a metro mayor in their area, local councils must first come together to establish a combined authority. The combined authority then agrees a devolution deal with national government.
Why are metro mayors important to climate and nature?
The devolution deals agreed between combined authorities and national government vary from region to region, but generally cover key sectors (see below) that are crucial to tackling climate change and improving the natural environment.
Metro mayors are responsible for directing investment in transport infrastructure.
On the positive side, metro mayors can significantly improve public transport and, crucially, the Bus Services Act 2017 grants automatic franchising powers to metro mayors. This means that metro mayors can decide on what routes bus operators in their area are required to run.
However, metro mayors can also enable road building schemes to be developed, through a consolidated transport budget and control over the local road network.
In mayoral combined authorities, the mayor is responsible for developing and delivering a Strategic Economic Plan for the area, which sets the business growth priorities for the plan period.
Some metro mayors have the power to establish mayoral development corporations in specific areas for particular kinds of development. Mayoral development corporations would have the power to acquire and develop land, provide infrastructure in that area and create subsidies and incentives for businesses to invest in the area.
Currently, two mayoral development corporations have been established (in Stockport town centre in Greater Manchester, and at the former SSI steelworks in the Tees Valley).
There are potential opportunities to use mayoral development corporations to stimulate a low carbon economy through the creation of green jobs.
Metro mayors also have control over the adult education budget – a valuable tool in the potential reskilling of workforces to take up these new jobs.
Some metro mayors also have powers under their devolution deals to produce spatial development strategies. These set out planning policies in line with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The NPPF requires spatial development strategies to include policies on the following, but leaves some discretion on whether to include other issues:
- provision for housing, employment, retail and leisure, commercial
- community facilities (e.g. health, education, culture)
- natural, built and historic environment (including climate change).
Climate Action Plan for your region's mayor
We need metro mayors to take ambitious climate action to make our city regions as climate- and nature-friendly as possible, at the same time as responding to the cost of living crisis.
To recover from the pandemic, we need a just transition to a low-carbon, nature-rich, circular economy, and to unlock the green job opportunities this will bring. Tackling the climate, nature and cost of living crises must be done in a way which benefits everyone, no matter their income, race, age or background.
We’ve created tailored Climate Action Plans for metro mayors that present a low-carbon vision for each region, point to evidence of the need for change and, crucially, the practical actions needed to tackle the climate crisis.
Climate Action Plans are available for Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, West of England and West Midlands. We also have a Climate Action Plan for the London Mayor.
Protecting the most vulnerable
Tackling the climate, nature and cost of living crises must be done in a way which benefits everyone, no matter their income, race, age or background.
It’s essential to address the sheer scale of inequalities that exist. People who are most marginalised – both here in the UK and across the world – have done the least to cause climate breakdown and are the least able to rebound from its impacts.
People on lower incomes, and particularly Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, suffer most from the lack of nature and green space in our towns and cities. This is also true of air pollution, despite a smaller proportion of lower-income and BAME people owning cars than others.
Young people’s futures are most at risk from climate breakdown and the decline of nature, and they’re also disproportionately impacted by the economic impact of the cost of living crisis.
Metro mayors must also shift how the success of a COVID-19 recovery plan is measured. Rather than focusing on economic growth, metrics should identify whether the plan reduces poverty, decreases inequalities, increases wellbeing, and meets carbon reduction and nature restoration goals.