Council bosses quizzed by Harrogate business leaders over rival plans for major local government changes

Business leaders in Harrogate have quizzed council bosses over their rivalling proposals for the imminent reorganisation of councils in North Yorkshire.

By Jacob Webster
Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 12:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 12:54 pm

Members of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce last night held a virtual meeting to hear out the two opposing views from Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council on how local government should be rearranged for devolution.

It was another chance for borough council leader Richard Cooper and chief executive Wallace Sampson to campaign for their plans for two unitary authorities, as county council leader Carl Les and chief executive Richard Flinton also tried to win support for their single unitary plan which would leave the City of York intact.

But chamber members also had the opportunity to direct questions at the leaders on why they think their plans will work the best for the Harrogate district.

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North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les (left) and Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper (right).

Graham Strugnell said he "just couldn't see" how one single council for the whole of North Yorkshire would work and asked why he should be convinced it would be in the best interests of residents.

County council chief executive Richard Flinton responded: "We are a big place, but we're also a hugely sparse area. You need to try muster the population size to run really strong, effective services, and my concern in terms of Harrogate to the Moors-type alternative is that you would struggle to do that."

Harrogate council leader Richard Cooper hit back: "The county council isn't local enough to fix the drains that flood every time there is rainfall on East Parade, or stop the One Arch flooding.

"Localism is critically important because it's local people, local councillors and local operations that know where the local problems area."

Chamber member Granville Simpson expressed concerns that Harrogate could be starved of funds to upkeep its identity as a top tourist destination under any plans to reorganise councils.

"Harrogate so much depends on its image as a floral town with the Stray and everything that goes with it," he said. "I am just worried the money needed to keep it looking excellent could be cut back."

County council leader Carl Les replied: "North Yorkshire isn't an amorphous mass - it's made up on individual parts and we need a strong Harrogate, a floral Harrogate, to be a jewel in the crown."

Harrogate council's chief executive Wallace Sampson also said: "We've made sure our parks and gardens have been prioritised in terms of investment and we've avoided cuts in those areas. That's what a local, responsive council can do."

Chamber member Richard Wheeldon expressed concerns over the timing of devolution during the coronavirus pandemic and that residents will have little say in how councils will be reorganised.

Councillor Cooper replied: "There will be more events like this, and the government will have a consultation as well with local groups and local people."

Councillor Les added: "If we can't agree on local government reorganisation, we don't get devolution and we will fall to the back of the queue.

"What we've been trying to do to get all of this extra money levered into North Yorkshire just won't happen."

The leaders have until the end of this month to submit final proposals before top-level discussions with the government begin.

If a deal is agreed, the new unitary authority or authorities could be formed by April 2022 and bring £2.4bn of spending power controlled by a new North Yorkshire mayor to the region.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter