A POWERFUL directly elected mayor could oversee the whole of Essex as part of a new vision outlined by county council bosses.

In the latest stage of the debate over the future of decision making in Essex, all district and county councils could be axed and replaced with up to four unitary authorities.

The plan is outlined in an email seen by the Gazette and sent to Southend party leaders by borough chief executive Alison Griffin.

It explains Essex County Council leader David Finch, along with the council’s chief executive Gavin Jones, wants to “explore” the creation of a “Greater Essex Mayoral Combined Authority” which would operate above the newly-formed councils.

It would be led by an elected mayor who could have oversight of budgets, development schemes, the police and fire services and planning.

The mayor’s powers would need to be confirmed through negotiations with central government.

The email goes on to note the county council will not be seeking to become its own unitary, leaving it unclear whether it would join one of the other larger authorities.

The plan, which is in its early stages, has already been endorsed by Simon Clarke, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, who wrote in a letter addressed to Mr Finch he “warmly” welcomes the plans and he looks forward to discussions in the autumn.

Mark Cory, leader of Colchester Council, said County Hall had explained early stages of plans at a summit with Essex leaders this week.

He warned the move could see Colchester lose part of what makes it unique.

Mr Cory said: “The discussions ministers are having suggests they want really big unitary authorities, which I am concerned will lead to a loss of identity in Colchester.

“Colchester has a fantastic and unique identity and it is a brilliant borough to live in with a supportive and award-winning borough council.

“Previously I have been in support of unitary authorities and making more decisions in Colchester about things like the roads and schools but this does not seem to be about that. This seems to be a top down reorganisation pushed by the Government.”

But Mr Cory said he welcomed Essex County Council being “open and transparent” on the plans.

He added: “However, I do not welcome the Government trying to reorganise us whilst we are still recovering and trying to guard against a second wave of Covid. It is an unwelcome distraction at this time.”