THE future of local government hangs in the balance after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott launched the campaign for a North West Regional Assembly.
Chronicle reporter DAVID HOLMES went along to meet the Cheshire-born political heavyweight and find out what the proposals will mean for the people of this county.
DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott has launched a blueprint for addressing the North-South divide by giving the North West the chance to have its own assembly, just like those in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
People will be able to vote 'Yes' or 'No' to an assembly next autumn - and the grand design is already opening up huge divisions within the region.
People in Cheshire, which would have two representatives in a 35-member assembly, fear being swamped by delegates from Manchester and Liverpool. Cheshire's rural interests could be forgotten as the two cities fight for the spoils.
And because an assembly would create another layer in local government, Mr Prescott would want to remove a tier.
Either Cheshire County Council or the six district councils would go, with the survivor left to offer the full range of public services currently provided by both.
This is causing friction between Cheshire County Council, which argues it could run services cheaper as a single authority, and the districts, which believe they are closer to the communities they serve.
Mr Prescott met editors of the region's media over an informal lunch at the North West Development Agency's offices in Warrington.
Issues affecting Manchester and Liverpool dominated the discussion. Asked whether Cheshire would lose out, Mr Prescott said competition between different centres existed already, so in that sense it made no difference.
As an example, he recalled that when Manchester Airport got permission for a second runway, there was spare capacity at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Expansion at Liverpool should have been investigated as the first option.
The Government has decided to hold referendums on the issue in the North West, the North East and Yorkshire and Humberside, saying there is some support for a vote in these regions - although this is hotly disputed.
If people vote for an assembly, it would receive a Government grant of £780m and have influence over a further £1,600m.
Its responsibilities would be jobs, business, housing, planning, transport, fire and rescue, public health, culture, tourism, sport and the environment.
Phil Woolas MP, deputy leader of the House of Commons, said: 'What's wrong with the system at the moment is decisions are taken in London that benefit the South East.'
But is an assembly really wanted by the people? 'What the campaign is saying is, it's your choice - if you don't want it, don't vote for it. Scotland has got it, London has got it and Northern Ireland and Wales.'