BATTLE lines are already being drawn over a shake-up of councils which could lead to a combined authority with an elected mayor.

Details of the biggest overhaul to south Essex governance for more than a generation were revealed by the Echo today.

The move would see Southend, Thurrock, Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point and Rochford councils join forces in bid to win Government and private sector investment and create thousands of jobs.

But some Southend councillors fear it will become “undemocratic” and would remove investment destined for the borough alone.

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Independent councillor and deputy leader of Southend Council, Ron Woodley, indicated the plan had already caused a rift in the joint administration which is made up of Labour, Independents and the Liberal Democrats.

He claimed Labour council leader Ian Gilbert had not told him about the plan until just days before it was made public.

Mr Woodley added “no-one has the authority” to make such a major change to the way the region is governed.

He said: “I am very disappointed we’ve come to this point.

“When I look through these plans, they are things we should be doing anyway. We don’t need a massive conglomerate to do it.

“This is putting in another layer of governance over all south Essex councils and I want to know what powers we will lose.

“Look at other areas that have done this and what comes with it. The mayoralty oversees highways, adult social care, children’s care, all the things we could lose control of.”

Lib Dem leader, Carole Mulroney, also refused to back the plans because of concerns about an elected mayor.

She said: “Whilst I understand the need for the council to be at the forefront of negotiations with Government on infrastructure funding for south Essex, I am not in favour of a directly elected mayor which in my view detracts from a democratically independent Southend, which we achieved when we fought so hard to establish our independence from Essex.”

However the leader of the council, Ian Gilbert, promised Southend Council would retain its authority and the new combined authority would gain its powers from central Government.

Conservative leader Tony Cox called it “largest change in local government in Southend this century”.

He said his party would scrutinise the plans “vigorously” to ensure Southend remains the priority.