WINCHESTER will engage in talks over a combined Hampshire council despite opposition from Lib Dem members following a city council vote.

Leader Cllr Caroline Horrill put forward a motion to engage with Hampshire County Council (HCC) on the plans after the county agreed to visit the issue of a combined authority at a meeting last week.

The motion was supported by Winchester's conservative councillors, but faced stiff opposition from their Liberal Democrat colleagues.

Cllr Kelsie Learney argued the city council should steer clear of the plans which were first suggested in 2015. They were soon dropped when Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight developed plans to create a combined authority for the Solent area with funding of £900m over 30 years from the government.

That plan also fell through when Isle of Wight Council pulled out in January last year.

Cllr Learney, who tabled an amendment calling for the council to reject the plans, said: "The proposals have already failed spectacularly." She added that the idea seemed "doomed from the start".

"We as the city council are best placed to decide what's best for our residents. The county council can collaborate with Southampton and Portsmouth if they wish, but there is no need for a combined authority. This is a proposal that is going nowhere."

Other Lib Dem councillors argued that the talks would take up valuable time and resources and that councils already worked collaboratively, but conservative members defended the idea, saying that Winchester needed to hear the plans first before making up it's mind.

Cllr Frank Pearson said that the Lib Dem stance appeared to be "we don't know what we're debating yet, but we don't like it".

"I've got to say I have reservations but we have to have these discussions."

Cllr Stephen Godfrey, portfolio holder for professional services, added: "This amendment shows a complete lack of understanding. Devolution isn't about sharing responsibilities, it's receiving powers from government we don't have."

Cllr Ian Tait said: "I thought I was listening to Nigel Farage."

The discussion followed calls for Hampshire's councils to come back to the negotiating table over a combined authority.

Under proposals from HCC's leader, Cllr Roy Perry, the plans would mean that Hampshire’s existing councils would still carry out their functions but a new layer of government, made up of a joint committee of council leaders, would hold the control of millions of pounds of funding each year, currently in the hands of government ministers.

Representatives from the Solent and M3 local enterprise partnerships as well as South Downs and New Forest national park authorities would also sit on the board responsible for decisions on transport, health and social care and skills and housing across the county.

But Cllr Perry said back office functions such as legal or IT services could be shared across councils in a bid to save cash, which he admitted could lead to job cuts.

Initially, the bid would be for an extra £30m a year from central government to help run the devolved powers.

The Winchester City Council vote was split down party lines, meaning the Lib Dem amendment was defeated, while the motion was passed.