Northern England devolution referendums, 2004

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Northern England devolution referendums, 2004
You can help to decide whether there should be an elected assembly in the North East region.

If an elected assembly is to be established, it is intended that:

  • the elected assembly would be responsible for a range of activities currently carried out mainly by central government bodies, including regional economic development; and
  • local government would be reorganised into a single-tier in those parts of the region that currently have both county and district councils.
Should there be an elected assembly for the North East region?
Votes  %
Yes check.svg Yes 197,310 22.07%
X mark.svg No 696,519 77.93%
Valid votes 893,829 98.62%
Invalid or blank votes 12,538 1.38%
Total votes 906,367 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 1,899,742 47.71%
Results by local authority
North East assembly referendum, 2004 results.svg
Referendum held: 4 November 2004
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Devolution referendums in Northern England were proposed under provisions of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003. Initially, three referendums were planned, but only one took place. The votes concerned the question of devolving limited political powers from the UK Parliament to elected regional assemblies in North East England, North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber respectively.

On 4 November 2004, voters in the North East rejected the proposal by 77.9% on a turnout of 49%, which halted the government's proposed referendums in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber which were postponed and then dropped.


The Labour government attempted to introduce English regional assemblies, to be directly elected. The London Assembly was the first of these, established following a referendum in 1998, in which public and media attention was focused principally on the post of Mayor of London.[1] Ken Livingstone, the first directly elected Mayor of London, saw the London Assembly as a recreation of the Greater London Council, which he had led before it was abolished in the 1980s.[2]

Assembly proposals

John Prescott, the key proponent of the assembly plans

Voters were asked whether they wanted an elected regional assembly to be created for their region. The structure and powers of elected regional assemblies was outlined in a Draft Regional Assemblies Bill[3] presented to Parliament by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in July 2004.

The draft bill proposed the following structure:

  • The assembly would be a body corporate with a distinct legal identity.
  • Each assembly would be composed of between 25 and 35 assembly members elected by the additional member system.
  • The assembly would select one member as the chairman and another as Deputy chairman to preside over its debates.
  • The assembly would have an Executive (cabinet) composed of a Leader and between two and six Executive Members.

The draft bill would have given the assemblies the following powers:

  • Promotion of economic development
  • Promotion of social development
    • Promote health, safety and security of the community
    • Reduce health inequalities
    • Enhance individual participation in society
    • Improve the availability of good housing
    • Improve skills and the availability of training
    • Improve the availability of cultural and recreational activities
  • Improvement and protection of the environment
  • Additional functions and duties that the Secretary of State thinks appropriate

Local government reorganisation

The counties and unitary authorities of England, if "yes" and option 2 is chosen in all referendums.

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 had 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 break-up 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 would have been 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:

North East England

County Durham

Durham Option1.png Durham Option2.png
Option A
  1. Hartlepool
  2. Stockton-on-Tees
  3. Darlington
  4. Durham Council
Option B
  1. Hartlepool
  2. Stockton-on-Tees
  3. Darlington
  4. South Durham
    (Sedgefield, Teesdale and Wear Valley)
  5. North Durham
    (Chester-le-Street and Derwentside)
  6. East Durham
    (Durham and Easington)


Northumberland Option1.png Northumberland Option2.png
Option A
  1. Northumberland Council
Option B
  1. Rural Northumberland
    (Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Castle Morpeth and Tynedale)
  2. South East Northumberland
    (Blyth Valley and Wansbeck)

North West England


Cheshire Option1.png Cheshire Option2.png
Option 1
  1. Halton
  2. Warrington
  3. Cheshire Council
Option 2
  1. Halton
  2. Warrington
  3. Chester and West Cheshire
    (Chester and Ellesmere Port and Neston)
  4. Mid Cheshire
    (Vale Royal and Crewe and Nantwich)
  5. East Cheshire
    (Congleton and Macclesfield)


Cumbria Option1.png Cumbria Option2.png
Option 1
  1. Cumbria Council
Option 2
  1. North Cumbria
    (Allerdale, Carlisle, Copeland and Eden)
  2. Morecambe Bay
    (Barrow-in-Furness, South Lakeland, and Lancaster from Lancashire)


Lancashire Option1.png Lancashire Option2.png
Option 1
  1. Blackpool with Fleetwood
    (Blackpool with parts of Wyre)
  2. Blackburn with Darwen
  3. Lancashire Council
Option 2
  1. Morecambe Bay
    (Lancaster with South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness from Cumbria)
  2. Blackpool and the Fylde
    (Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde)
  3. Central Lancashire
    (Preston, South Ribble and Chorley)
  4. East Lancashire
    (Burnley, Pendle, Ribble Valley and Rossendale)
  5. Blackburn with Hyndburn
    (Blackburn with Darwen and Hyndburn)
  6. Sefton and West Lancashire
    (Sefton from Merseyside, with part of West Lancashire)
  7. Wigan
    (Wigan from Greater Manchester, with part of West Lancashire)

Yorkshire and the Humber

North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire Option1.png North Yorkshire Option2.png
Option 1
  1. Stockton-on-Tees
  2. Middlesbrough
  3. Redcar and Cleveland
  4. City of York
  5. North Yorkshire Council
Option 2
  1. Stockton-on-Tees
  2. Middlesbrough
  3. Redcar and Cleveland
  4. City of York
  5. Craven and Harrogate
  6. Hambleton and Richmondshire
  7. Ryedale and Scarborough
  8. East Riding of Yorkshire
    (existing East Riding of Yorkshire with Selby)

Result in 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.[4][5] The reasons for this result are varied, however it is felt[by whom?] that the regional power would have been concentrated in an Assembly situated in Newcastle upon Tyne.[citation needed] which given the strong historic rivalries between urban centres in the North-East may have caused resentment from the people of Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Notwithstanding this, in the Newcastle upon Tyne local council 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.[6]

Overall result

Should there be an elected assembly for the North East region?
Choice Votes  %
Referendum failed No 696,519 77.9
Yes 197,310 22.1
Valid votes 893,829 98.6
Invalid or blank votes 12,538 1.4
Total votes 906,367 100.00

Results by local council counting area

Local authority Yes No Yes % No % Turnout*
Alnwick 2,771 11,666 23.75 76.25 57.4%
Berwick-upon-Tweed 2,250 8,597 26.17 73.83 52.3%
Blyth Valley 7,523 21,178 35.52 64.48 45.5%
Castle Morpeth 4,776 16,952 28.17 71.83 57.2%
Chester-le-Street 5,487 15,610 35.15 64.85 49.5%
Darlington 4,784 32,282 14.82 85.18 49.0%
Derwentside 9,718 22,888 42.46 57.54 49.1%
Durham 9,791 24,106 40.62 59.38 48.3%
Easington 8,065 21,520 37.48 62.52 42.5%
Gateshead 17,011 52,459 32.43 67.58 49.3%
Hartlepool 4,887 24,240 20.16 79.84 42.9%
Middlesbrough 7,977 33,543 23.78 76.22 42.1%
Newcastle upon Tyne 19,984 61,477 32.51 67.49 46.4%
North Tyneside 15,203 55,121 27.58 72.42 50.7%
Redcar & Cleveland 8,493 43,250 19.64 80.36 50.6%
Sedgefield 9,040 23,583 38.33 61.67 48.3%
South Tyneside 11,329 41,029 27.61 72.39 46.3%
Stockton-on-Tees 11,050 52,040 21.23 78.77 48.3%
Sunderland 17,927 71,893 24.94 75.06 43.4%
Teesdale 2,020 8,972 22.51 77.49 56.9%
Tynedale 5,146 20,975 24.53 75.47 55.4%
Wansbeck 5,947 15,503 38.36 61.64 46.6%
Wear Valley 6,131 17,635 34.77 65.23 49.9%
Totals 197,310 696,519 22.07 77.93 47.7%

* Valid and rejected votes divided by electorate.

Results for local government reorganisation

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.

North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber

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.[7]


  1. 'Overwhelming vote for Mayor', BBC News Online, 8 May 1998
  2. Paul Waugh and Andrew Grice. Ken reclaims the capital, The Independent 6 May 2000
  3. Draft Regional Assemblies Bill
  4. Electoral Commission results page, URL accessed 27 September 2007
  5. North East votes 'no' to assembly, BBC News, Friday, 5 November 2004
  6. No camp hail 'resounding' victory, BBC News, Monday, 5 November 2004
  7. Prescott rules out regional polls, BBC News, Monday, 8 November 2004

External links