Harrogate can be economic driver for 'whole of North Yorkshire' under reorganisation, says council chief exec
The chief executive of Harrogate Borough Council has told business leaders he believes the district can be the main economic driver for the whole of North Yorkshire under major changes coming to local government.
Speaking at a Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce meeting on Monday, Wallace Sampson said the district had to be a top priority for a new council which will take over control of North Yorkshire from April 2023 when the current two-tier system is abolished.
He said "the clock is now ticking" ahead of this date and that Harrogate council officers were involved in all parts of the planning process for areas including tourism, business support and a new economic strategy.
Mr Sampson said: "We don't want to be passing bystanders in this process and are ensuring that the Harrogate district remains an investment priority.
"We are very strongly of the view that there are huge opportunities for the district to be the economic driver for the whole of North Yorkshire and this needs to be recognised by the new authority."
The forthcoming changes will mark the biggest shake-up to local government in almost 50 years and see the seven district and borough councils - including Harrogate - replaced with a new unitary authority to be named North Yorkshire Council.
It is all linked to a devolution deal with government which could lead to decision-making powers and billions of pounds in funding coming under the control of a new North Yorkshire and York mayor, similar to those in power in Manchester and Liverpool.
Mr Sampson said while Harrogate Borough Council was disappointed that its bid for two new North Yorkshire councils split on an east/west basis was rejected last June, devolution was now the "prize" Harrogate is fighting for.
He said: "We put a lot of effort into the proposal of an east/west bid, but there is no point in crying over spilt milk and we just need to get on with it.
"One of the precursors for being able to secure a devolution deal in the same way that many areas across the country have was to go through local government reorganisation.
"We thought the prize of devolution was worth that - and we are talking about significant sums of money.
"Over a 30-year period across North Yorkshire and York this has a value of around £2.5billion, and there will be a further £25million a year that could be invested according to what we choose.
"If it means going through reorganisation to achieve this, then it has to be in the best economic interest of the Harrogate district and wider North Yorkshire and York areas."
At Monday's meeting, Mr Sampson and Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper were quizzed by businesses over the next steps of reorganisation, including what happens to key services such as planning, and public buildings including the council's new Civic Centre.
Councillor Cooper, who will stand down after 24 years of service in 2023, said he believed Harrogate should be the headquarters of the new North Yorkshire Council given its large population and central location.
He also said a Harrogate Town Council should be created, although this would be decided by the new council or a public vote.
Councillor Cooper added his main hope of reorganisation was that investments in areas such as Harrogate Convention Centre, Harrogate Homeless Project, Visit Harrogate and Harrogate Theatre would remain a priority in the future.
He said: "These are the organisations that make Harrogate the special place it is and they are also a lever in the tourism that supports our independent shops and hospitality trade.
"We need not to lose that and I'm quite certain the new authority will take this on board."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter