Analysis: What does the shifting political picture mean for Harrogate's future?

Both sides of Harrogate’s political divide may have had something to cheer about in last week’s local elections but voters remain completely in the dark about how life will look after the new North Yorkshire ‘super authority’ takes control next year.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 13th May 2022, 5:35 pm

Anyone who assumed that the ruling Conservatives would continue their long dominance of politics in Harrogate and beyond was met with a rude awakening.

Blame the cost of living crisis. Blame the ‘Boris effect’.

Sign up to our daily Harrogate Advertiser Today newsletter

Will Harrogate get a new Harrogate Town Council in the future?

Big Tory names in the town such as Graham Swift and Phil Ireland bit the dust as the Lib Dems grabbed ten of the 21 seats which will represent Harrogate on the new unitary authority running North Yorkshire from April 23 next year compared to nine seats for the once dominant Tories.

The latter will feel satisfied that, at the county level, they will provide the new leader and executive after securing 47 of the total 90 seats.

But simple arithmetic does not answer a series of questions which will determine how politics will actually work after next year’s new dawn for local government.

Will the abolition in 2023 of all district councils in North Yorkshire - including Harrogate’s - lead to unity at the top or will each area’s Tory county councillors be battling for his or her’s patch?

Will the 13 independents, 12 Lib Dem, 12 Labour and five Green councillors form a united opposition to the new rulers in Northallerton or will they splinter into local factions in an effort to represent their area’s voters?

Will the new system lead to a rigid ‘us versus them’ county-wide political battle or a messy mish-mash of clashing interests and temporary alliances of convenience?

Two things are, at least, certain when it comes to Harrogate’s future.

It is the Lib Dems who will now be driving the agenda regarding Harrogate’s interests.

And it looks likely that Harrogate will get a new town council in 2024.

Not that either of those certainties makes the crystal ball of the future any more clear.

The stance Harrogate’s resurgent Lib Dems take will depend partly on how the new unitary authority behaves and what the role of a new town council turns out to be.

Once again, that in itself is another unknown.

Will a Harrogate Town Council be a talking shop or will it control the town’s ‘crown jewels’ such as the Royal Hall which makes a £350,000 loss?

If it does, who will pay for it and where does that leave the new North Yorkshire county council which has been tasked with running the whole show, not just part of it?

Is there any point to setting up a Harrogate Town Council which doesn’t have those sort of powers?

It’s no wonder voters seem to be showing little more interest in the new system

than the old.

Of the almost 480,000 people eligible to vote last week, only 38% chose to do so...

Facts & figures: How the political landscape has changed in Harrogate

In 2017, the Conservatives took 55 of the 72 seats on the old North Yorkshire County Council.

Last week’s inaugural election for the new expanded authority for North Yorkshire saw the Conservatives win only 47 of the 90 seats, enough for a narrow majority.

Previously, the Conservatives held 73% of seats which represent the Harrogate district on North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council, while the Lib Dems had 17%.

Now the Tories have 43% of district seats, while the Lib Dems have 48%.