The Government was last night on the brink of a major U-turn on its flagship city regions project after the Minister in charge admitted there was no local support for the plans.

The proposals, which have the personal backing of Tony Blair, have been vetoed by councillors in the eight "core cities" of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

The Government is to publish a White Paper before Christmas setting out plans for "city regions" with powers over housing, transport and economic development. Ministers have urged councils to make themselves more accountable to local people in return for increased powers.

In an interview with The Birmingham Post earlier this year, Local Government Minister Phil Woolas said Birmingham and neighbouring councils could receive extensive new powers to run their own affairs if they accepted the need for a strong leader - such as a mayor.

But last night he admitted mayors were unlikely to go ahead, as he gave evidence to a Commons committee.

He said: "Some people, although there isn't a consensus for this in any of the eight core city areas, want a city region mayor.

"Some people are debating the idea of a federal leadership, where all the councillors in the area will themselves elect a leader. Some people like the idea of a directly-elected executive as opposed to a directly elected mayor."

Asked if the Government remained committed to creating city regions, he said: "We are absolutely committed to asking the local area what proposals they have, and what powers they need over these issues.

"If you are asking me 'do I have a blueprint', no I do not."

He was giving evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the future of regional government.

In May, Tony Blair wrote to Ruth Kelly, the Local Government Secretary, ordering her to introduce mayors across England. The letter said: "I would like to see a radical, devolutionary White Paper and subsequent Bill, with more powers for local neighbourhoods and new models of accountability and leadership, including mayors."

West Midland Authorities are hoping to create a body called Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country City Region. But instead of a mayor, the eight councils would create an executive board including the leaders of the eight councils along with the chairmen of three major quangos and a representative of the business community.

Councillor Paul Tilsley MBE (Lib Dem, Sheldon), deputy leader of the city council, last night "applauded" the Minister's "infinite wisdom" in rejecting the plan.

He said: "Ministers have rejected the idea of any compulsive element to elected mayors, and that's a good step because there's been no support at all for this in Birmingham or any of the 'core cities'."