Harrogate council leader to call time on his 20 years of service

One of Harrogate’s most prominent councillors for the last two decades is to stand down from local politics - though it’s not quite farewell.

Thursday, 28th October 2021, 3:05 pm
The leader of Harrogate Borough Council Richard Cooper told the Harorgate Advertiser he would not be standing for election to the new unitary council which will run North Yorkshire from 2023.

The leader of Harrogate Borough Council Richard Cooper told the Harorgate Advertiser he would not be standing for election to the new unitary council which will run North Yorkshire from 2023.

But Coun Cooper, who was first elected a Tory councillor in May 1999, said he would carry on representing his Harrogate central ward until the end of the council he has led for eight years.

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Coun Cooper said: “I have been a councillor now for 22 years and leader of Harrogate Borough Council for eight.

“That’s a long time and it is time for me to do other things and for others to have the opportunity to serve our communities at a senior level. Although I am not standing for the new council in the May 2022 elections, Harrogate Borough Council continues until April 2023.

"So although I am not standing for that new council it isn’t quite goodbye yet.”

Coun Cooper’s rise to prominence began when he won the then-safe Lib Dem seat of West Central in Harrogate in May 1999. Since then he has ridden boundary changes, run the office of Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones and successfully retained a seat at North Yorkshire County Council.

Coun Cooper stressed that his decision not to stand for the new county-wide body - after Harrogate council is dissolved in the biggest local government shake-up to hit the Harrogate district for 50 years - was one that had been planned.

Coun Cooper said: “I mentioned standing down long before anyone knew about local government reorganisation.

“My close friends and family already knew it was my intention to pursue other interests at the most convenient electoral point after serving 20 years on the council.

“I am happy to carry on as a Harrogate Borough Councillor until the council’s dissolution in April 2023.

“If members re-elect me I will also carry on as council leader until that time.”

Although Coun Cooper insisted it was now time to pass on the torch, he also added he was very proud of his lengthy time as a councillor.

After serving as deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council between 2003 and 2010 - occupying a number of Cabinet positions - he was first elected leader of Harrogate council in 2014.

If re-elected as leader next May, Coun Cooper will become be the longest serving holder of the position.

Having began his spell as a local councillor when he won West Central in 1997, following boundary changes in 2002, he was then elected to represent the Low Harrogate ward.

In 2010 he stood down intending to teach abroad but stayed to run Andrew Jones MP’s office following his election to Parliament in 2010.

In 2011, he returned to the council for the High Harrogate ward and was re-elected in 2015.

Following more boundary changes, he was elected to the Harrogate Central ward in 2018.

In that same year, he led the Conservative Party to their largest-ever victory at Harrogate Borough Council, returning with the largest majority any administration has ever had on Harrogate council - 77.5% of all the seats compared to 75% for the Lib Dems when Phil Willis led the council.

Coun Cooper also stood for North Yorkshire County Council in 2001, 2005 and 2009 for the Harrogate Central County division and was eventually elected for the division in 2013 winning by 39 votes. In 2017, he was re-elected with a majority of 1,200 votes.

Recent years have seen Coun Cooper at the top of local government in the Harrogate district at a time afflicted by a series of major controversies and unprecedented challenges, ranging from the sale of the council’s headquarters at Crescent Gardens to the UCI cycling championships, growing road congestion and the search for a greener future to the interminable problems of Brexit and Covid.

He is on the record as having opposed the option proposed by North Yorkshire County Council and, ultimately, supported by his own Government, for a brand new bigger unitary authority in the county which will see districts councils disappear - including his own.

But Coun Cooper said there were plenty of talented people waiting in the wings for that new dawn.

“We are fortunate to have many young and talented councillors in our district alongside those with many years of service,” he said.

“It is a great combination which will serve our district well on the new council.

“I wish them all, of every political persuasion, luck and success as they continue to champion sustainable transport, carbon reduction, support for the homeless and funding for our local voluntary groups among the many other brilliant things Harrogate Borough Council does.”

A councillor known in general for practicality over ideology, Coun Cooper said he was proud and privileged to have worked hard to represent voters and support the people of Harrogate in good times and bad.

He said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the voters who have elected me over the past 22 years.

“It’s also important to say how grateful I am to my fellow councillors for trusting me with leadership roles throughout that time and to the amazing people in our community groups who I have been privileged to meet and support.”

Harrogate Borough Council leader on his own record

Among the moments Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper says he looks back on with pride are:

Increased funding for homelessness support in Harrogate - including the new temporary accommodation in Starbeck

Defeating the Nidd Gorge relief road proposal and raising the profile of sustainable transport across the district

The construction of the new Harrogate Civic Centre which he says saved a million pounds a year, as well as releasing new investment capital for other projects such as the new Ripon baths

The introduction of the popular skate park in the Valley Gardens

Guaranteed annual funding for Christmas lights across the Harrogate district

Launching the Local Fund and the Local Lotto to fund good community groups and community projects across the Harrogate district

Establishing Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) to increase town centre footfall and bringing shops on Knaresborough High Street back into use after decades of being empty.