Critics fear Bradford's strong identity is being eroded in an ongoing move to place it under the brand of neighbouring Leeds.

Bradford is one of 11 local authority districts working in partnership to boost the fortunes of a newly-devised economic area which goes under the name of the Leeds City Region.

Now a new committee, made up of the leaders of all the authorities, is due to meet for the first time at Leeds Civic Hall in a groundbreaking new governance arrangement which will see the partnership enter a new stage in its development.

But sceptics, including Shipley MP Philip Davies, fear the new initiative will make Bradford subservient to Leeds, destined to live in its shadow forever.

Others have backed plans for a closer working relationship between the two cities, saying that Bradford can tap into the economic success of Leeds.

Each of the councils, including Bradford, has signed up to a legal agreement to be part of a more robust partnership, headed by the new committee, which will meet for the first time on April 2. The committee will initially have the task of promoting the city region to raise its economic performance and spread prosperity.

The plan for Leeds and its neighbours is part of a wider Government move towards greater regional devolution - a move which has already seen the Liverpool City Region given its own mini-Government which receives a proportion of business rates to spend.

But, in a week when a Leeds City Region delegation is meeting Local Government Minister Phil Woolas to brief him on the progress of the partnership, serious doubts have been raised about Bradford's place in the changing picture.

Mr Davies, a Conservative MP who won the Shipley seat at the last election, said: "Bradford is a big city and should be able to stand on its own two feet without having to live in the shadow of Leeds.

"This is called the Leeds City Region, but I'm not here to represent Leeds. I'm in parliament to promote Shipley and Bradford and I don't support a body which sees Bradford as subservient to Leeds."

Mr Davies said there was a danger of Bradford losing its identity because 11 local authorities were being "swallowed up" within the boundaries of the Leeds City Region.

He said: "I'm all for local authorities co-operating with each other when it's in their interest but I'm against more layers of bureaucracy which take decisions away from local accountability. It's another expensive talking shop."

The region comprises the districts of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, and York.

These authorities "reflect the true area of how the economy of Leeds and the other cities, towns and rural areas in the city region functions," according to the partnership's mission statement.

Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe, a Home Office minister, said Bradford could play an important part in the city region.

"We can benefit from what's going on in Leeds while retaining our civic identity," said Mr Sutcliffe, who advocated a closer working relationship between the two cities when he was leader of Bradford Council in the early 1990s.

He said: "People are more interchangeable now and we can boost the region by working together."

Mr Sutcliffe said he had made representations about the partnership carrying the name of Leeds, but added: "There's no point worrying about the name. What should count is what it does."

Bradford North MP Terry Rooney said: "Whether we like it or not Leeds is the main economic driving force in the area and this is about the other areas feeding into that and getting the spin-offs. It will require co-operation rather than competition."

Keighley MP Ann Cryer said: "At the moment, Keighley and Ilkley are at the far end of the metropolitan district of Bradford, which is at the far end of West Yorkshire. We start to worry that we are being forgotten by regional authorities and by the district council.

"It always seems that Keighley is on a long waiting list of priorities, which are firstly in Leeds and then in Bradford."

Mrs Cryer said the take-over of Keighley by Bradford Council had never been a popular move, and added that any perceived loss of powers from Bradford to a Leeds-based body would be equally unpopular.

Fears that Bradford is being overlooked in the regional picture were exacerbated last year when the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly announced it would not be holding a consultation meeting in Bradford to discuss plans to build 30,000 new homes in the district.

Instead, the regional assembly thought it would be sufficient to hold a consultation meeting on its draft Regional Spatial Strategy in Leeds, with Bradfordians expected to travel to have their say.

Eventually, after a public outcry across the Bradford district, another meeting was arranged and held in Saltaire.

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