COUNTY Durham residents have backed the idea of North-East devolution.

Of 81,964 voters who responded to a Durham County Council poll, the first major test of public opinion on the Government proposals, 59.5 per cent said devolving some power and resources to the North-East would be a step in the right direction.

Just 14.9 per cent said it would be the wrong thing to do, while 19.9 per cent said it would make little difference.

Chancellor George Osborne’s North-East devolution package offers powers over economic development and skills, transport, housing and planning and a £30m-a-year investment fund to a new North-East mayor to be elected in May 2017.

All seven councils covered, encompassing two million people across County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, are currently considering the offer.

Durham was the first to announce a poll and 21.7 per cent of its 377,110 voters responded.

Nearly half (47.8 per cent) said the mayor should have limited power, while 40.3 per cent said they should have quite a lot.

Two-fifths (40.5 per cent) said they thought devolution would bring more prosperity and jobs to County Durham but nearly as many (36.2 per cent) said it would have little or no impact.

Asked whether the North-East should seek further powers if devolution goes ahead, the largest number (42.9 per cent) said the region should “wait and see”, with about the same number saying yes and no (28.3 per cent and 22.4 per cent, respectively).

Durham County Council leader Simon Henig thanked those who took part in the poll and said their views would be taken into account, but did not commit his authority to a decision either way.

He added: “There have been concerns raised nationally about the level of public consultation regarding devolution, but in County Durham we have a strong track record of engaging with our residents on major decisions such as this.

“The fact that nearly 82,000 people in County Durham have responded to our poll shows that residents do want to have a say on issues that affect the local area.”

The results will be discussed by a full council meeting on Wednesday (February 24) before the council’s cabinet makes a final decision for County Durham in March.

Once each of the seven councils has made its own decision, the North East Combined Authority leadership board, which brings them all together, will make a final decision later in March.