An opposition leader has argued against a "one size fits all approach" to devolution for County Durham.

Councillor Carl Marshall said it was "time to put Durham first" after it was revealed in a leaked letter that Durham has until mid-October to decide whether to join a proposed region-wide devolution deal.

Durham had been pursuing its own single-county devolution deal, but the letter revealed the option of joining a wider deal with a new North East mayor would be kept open by the government.

It is understood the deal could be approved shortly by the new Liz Truss administration and local councils, with the potential to secure £3bn in government funding over 30 years and create more than 17,000 jobs, following months of negotiations for a new mayor-led combined authority.

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, leader of the Durham County Council's Conservative, Lib Dem and independent joint administration, has said: “We continue to work with government to look at potential devolution options for County Durham.

"We hope to be able to announce the outcome of these discussions soon.”

Read more: Durham undecided on whether to join Tyne & Wear in major £3bn deal

Cllr Marshall, leader of the Labour opposition, has now given his views on a possible deal, saying Durham should be a "powerhouse" in the North.

He said: "At this moment, behind closed doors in County Hall, a deal is being worked up that could see a politician based in Newcastle or Stockton have a bigger say over life in Durham than any resident reading this.

"The coalition that currently leads Durham County Council is looking at a number of options for a devolution deal that would see the government merge County Durham into a bigger combined authority, with investment decided for us by a mayor in Tyneside or even Teesside.

"The council is negotiating with both camps, in apparent secrecy, and appears to be failing to develop the Durham-only deal that was offered by government.

The Northern Echo: Councillor Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.Councillor Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo. (Image: Northern Echo, Newsquest)

"Devolution is long overdue, but are we really sure the council has it right when it says we are better to join with others?

"It doesn’t have to be that way.

"Last year, the Government offered County Durham a new 'county deal'. This deal would devolve funding and powers just to us – letting us set our own priorities and address issues impacting on the county.

"For some reason, we have seen no progress at all on the county deal, even as councils across the country start to catch up with Manchester, which has thrived during its devolution journey.

Read more: The devolution debate that Durham has to resolve

"Some in County Hall might question if County Durham is big enough to go it alone. For me, there is no doubt that County Durham has huge potential. We could, and should, be a powerhouse in the North.

"We have half a million people who feel deeply proud of their local identity. Over the last decade, we have secured hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment at the likes of Bishop Auckland town centre, the largest logistics centre in the region at Integra 61, and Hitachi at Newton Aycliffe.

"We have two UNESCO world heritage sites and a cultural offer second to none, that attracts 20 million visitors a year who spend around £1bn annually.

"We are the largest economy in the North East, we shouldn’t be second best on anyone’s plan for the region!

"And we – Labour – had a plan for the county that would have paved the way for 30,000 new jobs over the next decade, a plan now shelved by the regressive Tory-led coalition running the county council.

Read more: Devolution in Durham to lead Government levelling up agenda

"Look across the rest of England, you can see how we are missing out," he added, referring to a £750m devolution deal in North Yorkshire.

He said: "Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Tyne and Wear are in talks to get a proper mayor. But I think a patch covering Berwick to Bishop Auckland is big area, and a mayor overseeing this huge swathe of the region would, inevitably, overlook some of us.

"Just over a year ago, Durham had a plan for £750m worth of investment in its towns and villages. There is simply no way a mayor in Newcastle could deliver this or match its ambition.

"I’m a huge advocate for devolution. We need to take power from the hands of officials in London and bring it back to the North.

"But a 'one-size fits all' approach will never work. It’s time to put Durham first."

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