Guest Blog: Byrne sets Brum mayoral referendum alight

In just over two weeks citizens of Birmingham, Nottingham and Coventry go to the polls to decide whether to have a directly elected Mayor. These much-anticipated referenda on May 3rd will also be held in 7 other UK cities. 

In the Midlands many question marks still hang over the issues of what powers the new elected mayors may have, what policies will come to the fore and – perhaps most interestingly for the property industry – what influence these new figureheads will have over the planning regime. 

In a series of special guest blog posts, we get property insiders views from Birmingham and Nottingham about the campaign and what it could mean for the regions’ cities

In the first of these guest blog posts, Martin Field of Birmingham-based public affairs company RJF, gives his views…


fire 2 pic.jpgThe entry of former treasury minister Liam Byrne into the contest to be Birmingham’s first elected mayor has catapulted the issue at last into the mainstream. 

The prospect of elected mayors in England’s major cities is now no longer of concern only to political nerds and the chattering classes in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and elsewhere. The fact that a former cabinet minister is considering leaving Westminster for the regions has elevated the status of local government at a stroke.  

But Byrne’s move – and the subsequent coverage in the national media – has done little to move the debate beyond the personalities in play and the party political shenanigans that have ensued. 

What about the policies, the actual powers – both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ – that will be wielded by elected mayors in some of the core cities in just a little over six months’ time? It’s highly likely that citizens in Birmingham and other cities will vote for the change in referendums on May 3. Leicester, of course, is already a mayor-led city. 

The question of powers is a tricky one, with the government’s Localism Act – which triggered the mayoral referenda – infuriatingly coy about exactly what extra authority and money mayors will have. The government expects and hopes that mayors will be the dominant actors when it comes to regional transport and infrastructure projects. This raises interesting questions for a property industry still absorbing the implications of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Will mayors – some of whom may be new to politics – seek to influence planning decisions on the ground, when the legislation gives them no more authority over planning committees than currently exists for council leaders? 

And, given the example of Crossrail in London, will mayors seeking grand projects implement Community Infrastructure Levies (CIL’s) like they’re going out of fashion?

The answers will only become clear as we move beyond the referenda on May 3 and into the mayoral election campaigns proper, when the policy platforms of candidates are opened up for scrutiny.

What is clear, however, is that the nature of politics and government in at least some of the UK’s major cities is set for a shake up more radical than any seen in the past 100 years.


martin field pic.pngRJF Public Affairs’ Martin Field has over 25 years experience in the property industry, specialising in planning, development and the residential sector. Management consultant Field is based in the Midlands, providing inward investment, local government policy and public affairs advice to both national and international clients through The Urban Consortium. He is also a member of the UK executive committee of the global non-profit research and education organisation Urban Land Institute. Field has been deputy chairman of Marketing Birmingham, is chairman of the Chicago-Birmingham Sister Committee and is a former member of the advisory panel for Locate in Birmingham. He is co-founder of RJF Public Affairs, which counsels organisations on issues of public policy where legislative, regulatory or governmental decisions could affect their operations, prospects or value.


What are your views on elected Mayors? Please feel free to leave your comments below. 


Pic courtesy of wwarby via

About Lisa Pilkington

As Deputy Regional Editor/Midlands Editor, I edit and write for the Focus section of the magazine, as well as host our Focus receptions around the country and write for the Focus blog. With my Midlands hat on I also write and plan news and features for the region which are published both in print and online. Broadcast journalism is also a big part of my job - getting out and about with the EGTV camera. If you want to contact me about any of the above then please email me at

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