Council leader: Creation of Harrogate Town Council 'inevitable' if reorganisation goes ahead
The leader of Harrogate Borough Council has said it is "inevitable" that a new town council will be created under plans for local government reorganisation across North Yorkshire.
Conservative councillor Richard Cooper made the statement after members of the opposition Liberal Democrat party called for commitments to ensure residents' voices are not "lost" if the current two-tier structure of county and district councils is scrapped and replaced with unitary authorities.
Harrogate and Scarborough are the only areas in North Yorkshire currently not served by a town or parish council and a review of how services are run would be required if the Government decides to press ahead with reorganisation later this month.
Speaking at a meeting on Wednesday, councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Harrogate would be "woefully underrepresented" if the town was not given a chance to retain control over some services such as parks, markets and sports pitches.
She said: "We owe it to the people of Harrogate town to be able to make a strong statement that this council supports the parishing of Harrogate.
"Even with 75,000 residents' voices, those voices would be lost in some large unitary authority. It would leave Harrogate residents adrift and very under-represented.
"We as the locally elected members for those 75,000 residents need to ensure their voices are not lost and that true devolution occurs, bringing decision-making and accountability down to the people."
In response, councillor Cooper said he had previously offered assurances that a Harrogate Town Council would most likely be created and that a review of services would be carried at "the correct time, in the correct way and by the correct people."
Under the reorganisation plans, the current two-tier system could be replaced with either a single authority for all of North Yorkshire or two bodies split on an east/west basis in what would mark the biggest shake-up of local government in the county since the 1970s.
The government will also decide whether the City of York should be engulfed in the east/west proposal or be left as unitary authority.
The aim of the reforms is to unlock the door to a devolution deal and save cash by streamlining services.
Currently, North Yorkshire County Council is responsible for services including social care, education and highways, while district and borough councils look after the likes of planning, licensing and bin collections.
If approved, the reforms would see almost all services brought under the control of a unitary structure with some likely to be left in the control of a Harrogate Town Council.
At Wednesday's meeting, Liberal Democrat councillor Matthew Webber received the backing of all members after presenting a notice of motion which called on the borough council to "strongly recommend" the creation of a town council.
He said: "We are facing reorganisation and the announcement is due later this month. Harrogate will not become the centre of the world, it will probably be Northallerton so the influence Harrogate has got across its district is likely to be lessened.
"What we are asking through this notice of motion is that Harrogate is given a voice."
Harrogate Borough Council, along with Scarborough, Ryedale, Craven, Selby and Richmondshire councils, is behind the proposals to split North Yorkshire on an east/west basis, while North Yorkshire County Council has proposed a single authority for the whole county.
Each rival bids have boasted multi-million pound savings and better ways of working - and it is MP Luke Hall, minister for regional growth and local government, who will have the final say on which path to take later this month.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter