CAMPAIGNERS for a North-East assembly launched a campaign yesterday aimed at taking the region a step closer to setting up it's own mini-parliament.

Leaders of the campaign agreed that public opinion on holding a referendum on establishing an elected regional assembly should be put to the test.

The consultation document, Let the People Decide: Your Region Your Say, was unveiled by North-East Assembly chairman Tony Flynn.

He said: "Aspiration for more self-governance, and a wide-ranging debate on the merits of directly-elected regional assemblies, has existed in the North-East for well over a decade.

"Of all the English regions, the North-East has emerged as the region where there is the highest level of interest.

"Through opinion polls and editorial commentary in the regional media, there is evidence that interest and support for taking this debate forward already exists.

"Based on this, there is a strong case for holding a referendum in the North-East to test the level of enthusiasm, interest and support for a directly elected assembly."

However, North-East Conservative MEP Martin Callanan has branded the latest consultation exercise "a waste of money and a distraction from the major political issues affecting the people of the region".

He said: "The consultation document issued by Tony Flynn and his colleagues fails to point out that any future regional assembly referendum would cost £3m.

"County councils in Dur-ham and Northumberland would be abolished. There will be an increase in the levels of bureaucracy, all to be paid for, by the council tax payer to the tune of £25m a year - and an assembly would not bring power to the region from Whitehall, it would take power from the town hall."