What will be the legacy of Harrogate Borough Council? – the views of residents, staff, people outside the town and charities

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From the towns of Knaresborough, Masham and Pateley Bridge to the villages of North Rigton, Summerbridge and Kirkby Malzeard, life will continue on without Harrogate Borough Council.

For anyone still not aware, the council will be abolished at the end of this month after 49 years of existence.

From April 1, a new council called North Yorkshire Council will be created for the whole county and Harrogate Borough Council will eventually become a distant memory.

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Harrogate Borough Council has played a role, small or large, in the life of every resident so the Local Democracy Reporting Service asked four different people in the Harrogate district the same question — what will be its ultimate legacy?

We take a look at what legacy Harrogate Borough Council will leave behind following the creation of North Yorkshire Council in AprilWe take a look at what legacy Harrogate Borough Council will leave behind following the creation of North Yorkshire Council in April
We take a look at what legacy Harrogate Borough Council will leave behind following the creation of North Yorkshire Council in April

The view from residents

For some residents, the council begins and ends with when their bins are collected.

Others are more engaged with the ins-and-outs of council business and how it spends public money.

Rene Dziabas is the chair of Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents Association, a group that covers an area from Harlow Hill to Rossett Green and Arthurs Avenue to Castle Hill.

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Mr Dziabas has lived in Harrogate for 40 years and he said even though the town has seen major changes on the council’s watch he would still move here today if he could.

He said: “The recycling set up and bin collection has been good and the Valley Gardens and the Pinewoods look good.

"Those elements are still nice features of Harrogate.

"The Mercer Art Gallery is an absolute jewel, it punches above its weight and its exhibitions are really good and well-curated.”

But despite these uniquely Harrogate benefits that the council delivers, Mr Dziabas said over-subscribed schools, poor quality roads and pressure on Harrogate District Hospital have all been made worse by planning decisions taken by Harrogate Borough Council.

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Over 4,000 homes could eventually be built in the west of Harrogate over the next decade, including over 1,000 homes in fields next to RHS Harlow Carr on Otley Road.

As with elsewhere in the district, these new developments will change the face of Harlow Hill and Pannal Ash forever.

However, residents were disappointed with a document drawn up Harrogate Borough Council last year that said how the homes will link up with local roads, schools and healthcare services.

Mr Dziabas said: “In this neck of the woods, Harrogate Borough Council is not leaving it in a better state.

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"I can’t think of any major piece of work that’s really had a significant mitigation effect on the problems at the west of Harrogate.”

The council’s Local Plan will mean thousands more people can enjoy living in the Harrogate district but Mr Dziabas said there are lessons to be learned when it comes to consulting with residents about development.

He added: “Harrogate Borough Council ought to have been more communicative with the public in general.

"Ultimately we live in a democratic society, we are funding those institutions and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to communicate.”

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The view from the staff

Local government union Unison estimates Harrogate Borough Council has employed around 10,000 people since it was created in 1974.

David Houlgate, who has been Harrogate branch secretary at Unison for the last 18 years, said it’s these people who will be the council’s “enduring and lasting legacy”.

He said: “They are the ones who have delivered services over the years, they are the ones who kept those services going during the pandemic, they are the real stars of Harrogate Borough Council.”

The vast majority of council staff will automatically transfer over to the new authority North Yorkshire Council on April 1.

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Mr Houlgate is hopeful these staff members will deliver quality services to residents despite the well-documented cost pressures the new council will face. He said: “If it gets things right and works with its staff and the trade unions to deliver joined-up and effective services then it’s likely that Harrogate Borough Council will fade in the memory.

"If the new council fails to deliver on what it has said it would then inevitably Harrogate council will no doubt be missed.”

Mr Houlgate has worked for the council for the last 26 years and is currently a local taxation team leader.

Since 2010, the government has slashed funding for the council, which he said has resulted in higher workloads and stress for staff.

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He added: “It has changed an awful lot in my time at the council.

"It delivers more with less which has been necessary as a result of drastic cuts to funding from a central government that only seems to pay lip service to public services.

“To do this it has, over the years, cut the terms and conditions of staff, pay has not kept pace with inflation and workloads and stress absences have increased.

"As it comes to an end, there are recruitment and retention issues like never before.

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"It probably does not offer the career paths it once did and the new council will hopefully offer more opportunities.

"We will have to wait and see.”

The view from outside of Harrogate

Harrogate Borough Council was created in 1974 as an amalgamation of smaller councils including those in Knaresborough, Nidderdale, Ripon and Harrogate.

The council has been based in Harrogate for all that time, moving from Cresent Gardens to the Civic Centre in 2017.

But for some people living outside of the town, Harrogate Borough Council has focused too much on the district’s largest urban area.

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Councillor Andrew Williams is a former councillor at Harrogate Borough Council and he currently sits on North Yorkshire County Council as an independent and is also leader of Ripon City Council.

There are hopes in Ripon that the new council will look at the city as an equal to similar-sized market towns in the county like Thirsk, Malton and Northallerton.

Councillor Williams has been an outspoken critic of Harrogate Borough Council as he believes the authority has not given Ripon a fair shake.

The council has invested heavily in the Harrogate Convention Centre, which he believes has resulted in few benefits for his city.

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However, he praised the council’s staff for their work in delivering services to residents over the years.

Councillor Williams said:

“It would be fair to say that some of the services provided are not unreasonable.

"The refuse collection service, parks and gardens and the housing department do their best.

"The staff have worked incredibly hard to deliver services for residents across the district.”

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Harrogate Borough Council points to its investment in new state-of-the-art leisure facilities in Ripon and Knaresborough as examples of its commitment to towns outside of Harrogate.

Councillor Williams called the new pool in Ripon a “significant improvement” but added: “One project in 50 years is hardly justification for its previous misdemeanors in my view.”

Councillor Williams said Harrogate Borough Council’s legacy in Ripon will not be positive: “[Their legacy is] under-investment and a failure to recognise the Harrogate district encompasses more than Harrogate, the conference centre being the prime example.

"Money has been poured into Harrogate at the expense of everywhere else in the district.”

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The view from charities

Harrogate Borough Council has been a staunch supporter of the district’s voluntary and community sector.

There are more than 700 charitable organisations in the Harrogate district and many have stepped up over the last 13 years as the council has been forced to cut services due to austerity.

The council organises the Local Fund, which was launched in 2018 by Harrogate Borough Council, Harrogate and District Community Action and Two Ridings Community Foundation.

Last year the fund granted £85,000 to 29 different groups.

Jackie Snape, chief executive of Disability Action Yorkshire, said she has enjoyed working with local councillors on various campaigns, including a recent push to improve accessbility at tourist venues.

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Ms Snape said: “Harrogate Borough Council was an early adopter of our Think Access campaign, and one of the major factors that we, and other charities, will miss is the local knowledge with individual councillors, often showing a great interest in causes close to their heart and local area.”

Key to the council’s relationship with charities is the role of the mayor, which is a councillor that for 12 months has a packed diary full of meeting charities and attending events.

Current and final Harrogate borough mayor Victoria Oldham was seen getting stuck in with a shovel last year to break ground at Disability Action Yorkshire’s £7.5m supported living complex at Claro Road.

Ms Snape added: “For many years we were blessed by regular visits by the mayor of the day, all of whom paid great interest in the work we do, both at Hornbeam Park and at Claro Road.

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Ms Snape said the council’s legacy of supporting charities will be remembered.

Many charities rely on funding from the council and she hopes the new authority will show the same level of support.

She said: “Its work in helping and supporting a raft of charities working with some of the most vulnerable people in society will certainly be remembered for many years to come.

“We hope that when April 1 arrives, and North Yorkshire Council takes over that the same level of local funding and support continues, which is vital to the survival of many charities in the district.”

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Looking ahead

If four more people were asked their opinion on what Harrogate Borough Council has achieved and what its legacy will be — it would likely generate another four very different answers.

This perhaps shows the council has done more for the district than it is sometimes given credit for.

But most would probably agree that how fondly Harrogate Borough Council will be remembered is likely to depend on how successful the new council is at the delivering the nuts and bolts services that residents have always expected for the last 49 years.

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