The prospect of a devolution deal that could see a new mayor elected for the North-East is gathering steam – with ministers pushing for talks this month.

The Government is urging council leaders on either side of the Tyne to mend a divide that saw three authorities break away in 2018.

In a letter seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, former local government minister Simon Clarke said this week that re-uniting the area’s seven councils under a single elected mayor was “the only way” to unlock massive public investment in the region’s transport network.

The Tory minister told North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll that he would be “very interested” in holding talks over a new devolution package with council leaders from Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland, and Durham – and wants to do so by September 24.

Negotiations over a devolution deal for the whole region had previously collapsed in 2016, amid a bitter political battle among the region’s Labour-dominated establishment.

The breakdown saw Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside leave the North East Combined Authority (NECA) to form their own body – for which Mr Driscoll was elected mayor last year.

But the Government has now repeatedly stated that the North-East will only be given much-coveted powers over its rail and bus services, plus a share in a £4.2 billion transport funding pot, if the south of Tyne councils can be brought on board.

Mr Clarke wrote: “We both know the North-East needs this new opportunity so badly, and for the benefit of the region we love, we should take it now. 

“My firm view is that the optimal basis for Mayoral governance within the North-East is the largest possible functional economic area – one that includes all of the seven local authorities currently in the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership. As well as bringing the potential of greater resources and powers, this optimal geography is the only way to unlock longer term financing over transport, which I know is a priority for you. 

“I would be very interested in a discussion with the leaders of all seven local authorities, with a view to moving to an agreement."