Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they would like to try a scheme where towns and cities are run by a more powerful mayor, directly elected by the public - not colleagues.

It is already a successful system in some parts of Europe. But would it work here?

The Guardian spoke to Knutsford's mayor, Jennifer Holbrook, on how she sees the role of civic leaders in Britain compared to those abroad.

KNUTSFORD'S town mayor Jennifer Holbrook said too many powers had been given up in the local government reform of 1974.

She said the town council should regain authority for certain issues such as running its own grounds and the civic centre.

She said it would be challenging to be an elected mayor with many powers, but added: "They must be ringfenced with lots of safeguards."

Clr Holbrook was speaking after the Commission for Local Democracy argued that a system similar to those in some European countries would revitalise local politics.

Professor Gerry Stoker of the commission said an elected mayor with power to run a town would lead to a greater interest in local elections.

Heidelberg in Germany was highlighted as a successful town where mayor Beate Weber had taken on the job - and seen the council's efficiency soar.

But Clr Holbrook warned there could be problems with one person in charge. "It could be dangerous if you look at the way power has been abused in certain British cities by councillors," she said.

"The use of powers is conditional on the quality of the people who have it and the quality of the administrative organisation."

As mayor of Knutsford, Clr Holbrook chairs town council meetings and represents the council at events. Unlike her counterpart in Heidelberg, she is more a ceremonial figurehead. But Clr Holbrook believes the role is still an important one.

"As chairman of the meetings you can guide colleagues, sum up the views of a meeting and weigh the balance. But you can if you like kickstart, give initiatives and cause shifts in thinking.

"It's the responsibility of a mayor to have fresh thinking."

Miss Holbrook said geography played a big part in the success of France and Germany's presidential-style elections and mayors.

"Compared to France and Germany we are just a small island. The towns in bigger countries have a lot more space between them and are often isolated, so they need more powers locally. But in Britain the green belt between our towns and villages is getting smaller, so it's possible to spread powers between towns."

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