WITH the first ballot papers in the referendum on a directly-elected assembly for the North-East due to leave the printers tomorrow, both sides of the debate declared the result to be too close to call.

The first indication of how the vote is likely to go will come in an exclusive opinion poll to be published in The Northern Echo on Monday.

The results of the Mori poll - the biggest and most authoritative opinion poll of the entire campaign - are eagerly-awaited by both sides in the debate.

Last night, both Yes and No camps were bullish about their chances in the all-postal referendum, but admitted the vote was likely to go down to the wire.

John Elliott, chairman of North East Says No, said: "It looks like its going to be close but we are confident that when people actually sit down and think what this means they will vote no.

"People do not want more politicians and higher council tax to pay for a white elephant assembly."

His counterpart at Yes 4 The North East, Professor John Tomaney, said: "It is all to play for.

"It is vital that people believe in a positive future for the North-East and get out there and vote Yes."

The pair were speaking ahead of the filming of a head-to-head televised debate, to be screened on BBC1 tomorrow night, as the national media turns the spotlight on the region now the first votes are about to be cast.

The first of the 1.9m ballot papers will be collected, on schedule, by Royal Mail tomorrow for delivery to homes across the region. The first voters will receive their voting packs on Tuesday and the entire electorate should have their ballot papers by Friday.

Ballot papers must be returned by 10pm on November 4 and the result is expected to be known within a matter of hours. Fever pitch - Page 8