Harrogate district councillors' hopes and fears of devolution for North Yorkshire and York

Councillors from across the Harrogate district and its political parties have revealed their hopes and fears of devolution.

By Jacob Webster
Thursday, 13th August 2020, 7:00 am

Talks of a deal for North Yorkshire and York were suddenly fast-tracked in July when the region's political leaders were given just two months to come up with plans for a major council restructuring which will mean the end of seven district authorities - including Harrogate.

It set the leaders off in a scramble to campaign for what type of new council - or councils - they think should come in their place.

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Councillors from across the Harrogate district and its political parties have revealed their hopes and fears of devolution.

North Yorkshire County Council has said a so-called super council to serve 600,000 residents - whilst leaving City of York and its population of around 200,000 intact - is the best way forward.

Meanwhile, the region's seven district leaders are said to be exploring the creation of two councils of roughly equal size - around 400,000 residents - by involving York in their joint-proposals.

But what do councillors across the Harrogate district think? And how do they feel about the end of the borough council?

Conservative councillor Tim Hunter, a member of Knaresborough Town Council, said devolution could be "key" to resolve "so many" issues that frustrate residents in the town.

He hopes that with the abolishment of Harrogate Borough Council, residents will be given a greater voice at the table of local democracy.

"My main priority is that whatever new level of governance we get – that town councils have more power", he said.

"In particular, town councils must be able to prevent the higher tiers plundering their assets which may be sold off for various questionable aims including providing district wide facilities and other big ideas that might only in reality benefit one large town.

"We can only hope that places like Knaresborough will have more autonomy in the future."

While central government has said devolution will help the district's coronavirus recovery, Coun Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Harrogate Borough Council, has questioned if this is the right time to drastically restructure local government.

She said: "At such a difficult time, with many residents really suffering from the effects of coronavirus, do we really need to be going through a massive local government reorganisation that could cost taxpayers millions and disrupt vital local services?"

Coun Marsh has also called on the government to reject any proposals for a so-called super council, with her party saying it would be "disastrous" for local interests.

Conservative Ripon City councillor Stuart Martin MBE said Harrogate Borough Council will be missed by residents, despite feelings the city historically has been a low priority.

He also said there are concerns over how quickly the devolution talks are progressing.

"There is always a worry if something is seemed to be done speedily the attention to detail hasn't been taken care of", he said.

"But I'm not sure if there is ever a good time to rearrange local government - it's always going to be tricky. I'm sure in 1974 they were't sure if it was the right time then.

"Change is not a bad thing and sometimes you have to embrace it.If the savings that are being bandied about are brought forth and local people can be represented - that's all we can ask for.

"At the end of the day, we are here to serve the public and that is what we have got to do."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter