Harrogate devolution: Leeds vs North Yorkshire

NADV 1407151AM2 Montpellier Hill. (1407151AM2)

NADV 1407151AM2 Montpellier Hill. (1407151AM2)

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As the debate rumbles on over how Yorkshire devolution would affect Harrogate, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader Coun James Lewis and North Yorkshire council leader Coun Carl Les set out their proposals for Harrogate.

Coun James Lewis, deputy leader of Leeds City Council.

Coun James Lewis

Coun James Lewis

There is a very strong economic and practical case for Harrogate and Leeds to work together.

Economically the two districts are very closely linked.

Leeds is home to the largest and fastest growing financial and legal services sector outside London, and many people choose to commute between Leeds and Harrogate.

This isn’t all one way, as the Harrogate district itself has a strong economy and excellent companies in a range of different sectors.

Coun Carl Les, newly elected Leader of North Yorkshire County Council Conservative Group - May 2015

Coun Carl Les, newly elected Leader of North Yorkshire County Council Conservative Group - May 2015

The business conferencing facilities in Harrogate are well-known and the two places have very complementary strengths for attracting tourists to the city-life of Leeds and the North Yorkshire countryside.

The practical case is just as strong. It will be vital to Harrogate to attract investment in transport infrastructure which has been lagging for decades, especially the electrification of the rail link to Leeds, and other improvements to the district that give easy access to Leeds/Bradford Airport, and aerial links to London and Manchester.

West Yorkshire councils have worked very closely with Harrogate to build a strong partnership that backs the compelling case for electrification.

As resources become scarcer for such infrastructure investment, the economic case for Harrogate will stand and fall on whether it can demonstrate economic impact, and this can only be done through new ways of working in strong partnership with the Leeds city-region.

Is there a risk of the rural areas in the Harrogate district being “drowned out” by their bigger urban counterparts?

here is no evidence at all that this has happened over the last five years of the Leeds city-region partnership. In fact, Harrogate has gained hugely in being part of the £1 billion UK’s largest LEP deal through the Regional Growth Fund that is already bringing jobs and opportunities to people and businesses in the district.

We are getting three times the impact at three times the speed of similar national programmes through this partnership.

The best example of all is the Tour de France, which would never have come to both Leeds and Harrogate but for this strong partnership that showed how we can beat the best in the world when we work together. It would be folly to throw this away.

Coun Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, sets out his views on devolution.

The government’s offer on devolution is a great opportunity for the residents of North Yorkshire and the wider Yorkshire area.

I believe we should grasp the opportunity and build upon what we have already achieved.

This offer means that we have a major opportunity to have greater local control over decisions affecting local residents and businesses and I think it would be difficult to find many people who disagree with the principle that making decisions at a regional or local level is better than making them in Westminster.

I would like to see devolution for the whole of Yorkshire. The region’s size is its strength.

Yorkshire has a strong, clear identity and would be able to speak with one voice on issues of transport and economic development, ensuring the region was heard on the national stage, as well as playing a key role in the Northern Powerhouse.

Whilst I believe that should be our goal, if Yorkshire-wide devolution cannot be achieved, devolution based on the existing Local Enterprise Partnership area of York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, could be the first step to a wider Yorkshire devolution.

Devolution is about economic growth. Our successful LEP drives that.

I believe it would devolve powers to an area that already has an effective partnership, and the Harrogate district has a key part to play.

We have a vibrant, entrepreneurial economy, in this area, driven by hard-working, resilient people.

As well as strong local communities around our urban centres in Harrogate, Ripon and Knaresborough, these communities are also found in our thriving market towns and villages. But we also face issues, many of them in common with other parts of North Yorkshire and East Riding; namely high employment but low wages, good education links but a need for higher skills; and many small businesses to support, but a lack of affordable housing.

Transport and connectivity is an important issue for the district and we need the ability to make decisions about how we invest in things such as improving east to west connections through road and rail networks and easing congestion on the key routes around Harrogate.

I believe a devolution bid, focusing on the geography of York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, is the best way to find solutions to these common problems.

Devolution would allow us to address these problems at a local level – we understand and have the expertise to deal with rural issues and develop our market towns.

So for the Harrogate district, we could see it benefiting from the creation of a major transport fund, the retention of business rate growth to help business employment, additional support for tourist businesses and devolved funding for housing and skills.

This is a great opportunity for the Harrogate district and I believe working with its rural and urban partners in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding is the best