North Yorkshire tries to block Harrogate’s devolution options

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North Yorkshire is refusing to hand over its Highways powers to Harrogate, effectively vetoing the district’s devolution opportunities.

Harrogate council has been robbed of the choice of working with the Leeds City Region, which had an estimated outcome potential of £50billion and a better chance of being given devolved powers from Whitehall.

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

North Yorkshire County Council has flexed its political muscles, turning the screw on Harrogate Borough Council.

In a letter from North Yorkshire County Council leader Coun Carl Les (Con, Catterick) to Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper (Con, High Harrogate), Coun Les said: “The question we discussed was not about exercising a veto, rather about why we should transfer powers.

“Would there be a benefit to the whole County area?

“We concluded, unanimously, that the case was not made.

Election of district councillors'May 7, 2015'Harrogate Borough Council'Conservative candidate'High Harrogate, Richard Cooper

Election of district councillors'May 7, 2015'Harrogate Borough Council'Conservative candidate'High Harrogate, Richard Cooper

“We do not support the Leeds City Region bid for the numerous reasons we have advanced, but principally because it divides the County area into those who have the opportunity [for devolution] and those who have not.”

Coun Cooper said that Harrogate should not have its choices taken away just because other parts of North Yorkshire were not offered devolution.

He said: “This is not just about a highways contract. It is about electrification of the railways, building a relief road, tens of millions of pounds worth of investments, not just who is going to fill in the pot holes.

“All I want is for the Harrogate District to be able to make a fair and open choice.”

Last week the ‘Advertiser set out the two devolution options which had been formally put to Harrogate Borough Council.

A North and East Yorkshire region including Harrogate, York and potentially Hull would have a potential to increase the area’s economic output by between £20billion and £26.6billion (GVA).

Logistically it would also be a simpler option as there would be no need for any boundary changes to join the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the majority of the councils and authorities involved are well used to working with one another.

HBC officers believe that the Leeds City Region option, is the one most likely to be approved by the government.

The report says: “The Leeds option has almost double the economic output potential (with a potential GVA of £50.9 billion) and contains a names core city [Leeds] and may stand a better chance of securing a meaningful devolution deal from the government.”

The West Yorkshire Combined authority says that with a population of 2.8million the Leeds City region has the economic clout and scale to provide a strong voice to Whitehall, as well as becoming a key player within the ‘Northern Powerhouse.’

Without Harrogate, North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire’s proposal will be significantly weakened and would be unlikely to win powers from Whitehall.

Harrogate still has the option to join the West Yorkshire Combined Authority as an associate member, but as the highways responsibility will stay with North Yorkshire, any infrastructure funding the Leeds City Region was granted would be unlikely to come Harrogate’s way.

It is understood that a last minute Greater Yorkshire Council bid has been put forward, after MEP Timothy Kirkhope (Conservative) chaired talks calling on all the council heads to work together.

It has been difficult to get all councils from both sides of the political spectrum to agree to work together.

Mr Kirkhope said: “The game is not over, it has just started. If this goes right we will have a proposal bringing together as many areas, rural and urban, as possible. We are not giving up on that.”

Leeds City Region councils are predominately Labour run, whether or not Mr Kirkhope is more successful in bending the ear of his Tory colleague, George Osborne, than the Labour run Leeds bid is yet to be seen.

Final decision and full announcements are not expected until late November or early December this year.