'I fear we may get an uncaring council': Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale councillors react to reorganisation decision

Councillors in Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale have shared their reaction to the government decision that North Yorkshire's two-tier councils will be scrapped and replaced with a single unitary authority.

Friday, 30th July 2021, 12:06 pm
Updated Friday, 30th July 2021, 12:10 pm
Ripon Town Hall.

In a move which will mark the end of the county council and seven district and borough councils including Harrogate, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick last week announced his decision to opt for a new single council structure over a rival bid for two authorities split on a east/west basis.

It will mean all council services will come under the control of the new authority from April 2023 - and there could also be the opportunity for town and parish councils to take on new powers.

Harrogate is also likely to get a new town council.

Councillor Christine Willoughby, the mayor of Knaresborough.

The government decision comes after North Yorkshire County Council last year submitted plans for the single council bid, while the district and borough councils, except Hambleton which rejected all options on the table, were behind the east/west split.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked councillors in Knaresborough Ripon and Nidderdale for their thoughts on the decision, as well as how they hope their areas will fit into the new local government picture.

Here is what they said.

Councillor Christine Willoughby, the mayor of Knaresborough, said: "I hope that the new North Yorkshire council will be responsive to people's needs and will realise that decades of budget cuts have left services in a poor state.

Councillor Andrew Williams, leader of Ripon City Council.

"I fear that we may get a distant uncaring council which will continue neglecting our town.

"I really hope the new council will listen to Knaresborough Town Council and take notice of its views.

"In the past, Knaresborough Town Council has often been frustrated by North Yorkshire County Council's unwillingness to discuss and negotiate over certain key issues i.e. the insistence of gritting of roads in Knaresborough being restricted to bus routes and leaving Kirkgate ungritted with our railway station at the bottom of the hill.

"I'm sure the town council will be willing to discuss the possibility of taking over certain responsibilities from the new council, if the financial package is acceptable.

Councillor Mike Holt, the mayor ofPateley Bridge.

"Areas that the town council might be interested in looking to take over might include burial services including the cemetery, the use of and responsibility for the market place including car parking, and the weekly market and I'm sure there may be many others including possibly some buildings."

Councillor Andrew Williams, leader of Ripon City Council, said: "I have no angst against North Yorkshire County Council but I do think the government minister has got this decision wrong.

"My fear is that we will have a very large authority with not as many elected members and as a result of that fewer voices standing up for local people.

"I also worry we are not going to see an improvement in services and I am sure there will be counterarguments to this but you only have to look at the state of the roads in Ripon to see the county council already does some things badly and other things really well, such as education.

"We have an aspiration to do more as a city council as we believe doing things locally and involving local people is the best way forward.

"We would certainly like to see Ripon Town Hall back in the control of people in the city, as well as Hugh Ripley Hall. We would also very much like to run the Thursday markets.

"We have already raised some of these issues with Harrogate Borough Council and some have had a more favourable response than others. We hope they will work with us to get the best possible outcome for our residents.

"I don't think tears will be shed locally following the demise of the borough council.

"Ripon residents do not feel they have had a fair crack of the whip when it comes to provision of services but we hope that can be put aside over the next 20 months for us to finish working with the council on a positive note."

Councillor Mike Holt, the mayor of Pateley Bridge, said: "The first thing I have to say is that Pateley Bridge Town Council is an independent council and as such does not have to follow a party line on policy, so the town councillors have their own opinions on devolution and I believe that is how it should remain.

"My personal thoughts are that the single unitary authority is the correct route to take simply because it cuts out the seven current district tiers of management and supervision which must save money but will also end the double taxation situation that many parishes face.

"To give an example, some of our council tax is paid to Harrogate Borough Council which amongst other things pays for the upkeep and maintenance of the flower beds in Harrogate and the Stray, but we as a council are also charged by HBC for the maintenance of the flower beds and borders in and around Pateley Bridge.

"I believe this is a double tax and HBC acknowledged this several years ago and paid us a ‘maintenance grant’ to cover the difference.

"Over the last few years this grant has been reduced and is now not available, so reverting to a double taxation. The single authority should remove that type of anomaly.

"I really cannot see much change for Pateley Bridge or Nidderdale in general, as we do not have any boundary issues with the changes.

"To take on extra roles, for example cleaning gullies or planting and maintaining flower beds, costs more than just the labour and materials involved.

"The whole administration costs and insurances as well as extra staff have also to be budgeted for but in the future, with the money saved with the single authority, there may be more funds available to make that work effectively at our local level."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter