Yorkshire Devolution: Everything you need to know about Harrogate’s dilemma

As the deadline looms for Yorkshire’s devolution proposals, the Harrogate district looks set to be choosing between the big city region of Leeds or the rural North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire region.Here we tell you what you need to know about Harrogate’s devolution dilemma.

Thursday, 27th August 2015, 8:00 am
Harrogate view from Crescent Gardens

Will there be one Greater Yorkshire council with one mayor?

Yorkshire Conservatives have rushed through talks this week in a last ditch attempt to put forward a Greater Yorkshire proposal for devolution ahead of the September 4 deadline.

The Greater Yorkshire option is the preferred option of both North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council, however it was thought to be a nonstarter after the Leeds City region made it clear they will either work with neighbouring councils, including Harrogate, or go it alone.

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Leeds city centre skyline with Bridgewater Place, The Town Hall, Leeds University etc.

A Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) report said that Yorkshire brand is well-known internationally and a Yorkshire wide deal would allow the region to compete on the an international stage.

Skipton and Ripon’s MP, Julian Smith (Con) agrees: “Just look at the Tour de France, we saw what we could do when we brought Yorkshire together in one big picture. I understand there are tensions and difficulties but I believe we have got to make the best use of the Yorkshire brand.”

Harrogate Borough Council leader, Coun Richard Cooper (Conservative) said the idea of a Greater Yorkshire area proposal ‘wasn’t quite dead in the water’ but it maybe some time in the future before it is back on the table.

As with the Greater Manchester area devolution deal last year, an elected mayor is a non-negotiable part of the deal.

Hawnby Hill in North Yorkshire

So why should Harrogate district side with North and East Yorkshire?

A devolution deal with North Yorkshire, Yorks and East Riding would suit the ‘character’ of the Harrogate district’s economy more, Barry Dodd OBE, chairman of the area’s Local Enterprise Partnership has said.

“The character of Harrogate suits North and East Yorkshire. It is a Borough of small businesses, it has a lot in common with North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire, they are all tourist economies.

“Of course it benefits greatly from its proximity to Leeds, but that doesn’t mean that would be the best deal. The benefits of that geographical proximity is obviously never going to change.”

NADV 1406037AM6 Richard Cooper. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1406037AM6)

A North and East Yorkshire region including Harrogate, York and potentially Hull would have a potential to increase the area’s economic output by between £20billion and £26.6billion (GVA).

Logistically it would also be a simpler option as there would be no need for any boundary changes to join the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the majority of the councils and authorities involved are well used to working with one another.

Mr Dodd said: “The way forward with devolution is to keep it very lean we don’t want extra bureaucracy.”

What does Leeds City Region have to offer Harrogate?

HBC officers believe that the Leeds City Region option, is the one most likely to be approved by the government.

The report says: “The Leeds option has almost double the economic output potential (with a potential GVA of £50.9 billion) and contains a named core city [Leeds] and may stand a better chance of securing a meaningful devolution deal from the government.”

The West Yorkshire Combined authority says that the Leeds City region has the economic clout and scale to provide a strong voice to Whitehall, as well as becoming a key player within the ‘Northern Powerhouse.’

The area has a population of 2.8million, and 92.7 per cent of the region’s labour market is self contained with 55,000 people travelling between Harrogate, Craven, York and West Yorkshire for work.

In July 2014 the government awarded the biggest Growth Deal in the country to the area, which a £1billion West Yorkshire plus Transport Fund, showing the government’s recognition of the area’s ambition and its faith in the Leeds City Region.

Could North Yorkshire be split up?

Although Coun Cooper said the ‘ball is in Harrogate’s court’ ahead of the latest discussions, North Yorkshire County Council could veto HBC becoming a member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) as it would need to give its permission and delegate transport powers to Harrogate. If NYCC refused to delegate powers then HBC would be forced to join the WYCA as an ‘associate’ member.

If Harrogate, Craven, Selby and York opt towards the Leeds City option, the North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire proposal will be significantly weakened and would be unlikely to win powers from Whitehall.

Coun Les admitted he feared that parts of North Yorkshire could end up being left behind.

“We see no reason why we should transfer the powers that would be needed to Harrogate, we have a commitment to the 600,000 residents of the county of North Yorkshire, not just the 150,000 or so residents of Harrogate.

“It is a fundamental concern that the county and the geography will be split, there will be parts with devolution and areas left without.”

So why bother asking for devolved powers?

More localised transport spending powers is seen to be one of the key drivers for devolution.

There have long been calls for more local control of highways works in Harrogate. North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for highways, Coun Don Mackenzie (Con, Saltergate) has said that without devolution all the highways authority’s work is just ‘tinkering around the edges’.

Coun Mackenzie said: “There is only so much we can do with what we have got. Clearly North Yorkshire County Council would benefit from devolution plans and would be able to carry out a great deal of investment.

“At the moment we are just tinkering around the edges, the council only has so much, there is a lot we would want to do, major investments, possible a relief road but we need to control the budget.”

Coun Cooper believes the area could become a centre for agricultural technology skills, He said: “With the right investment there could be a huge improvement in education and skills particularly with agritech, it is something we could be really good at with the Yorkshire Agricultural Society on our doorstep.”

Would policing be affected?

North Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, Julia Mulligan has said any devolution deal which would see Harrogate policed by West Yorkshire would be a ‘disaster’.

The Greater Manchester devolution agreement includes the responsibilities of the Police and Crime Commissioner to be taken on by the elected Mayor.

Mrs Mulligan said: “From a policing point of view anything that puts us in with West Yorkshire would be bad news.

“At the moment police make an assessment and prioritise issues according to levels in North Yorkshire, if we were to cover the area based on West Yorkshire’s assessments, it would be very difficult.

“We are so different, we are a rural area, we have our own challenges.”

She added: “My concerns are for the impact on the police force and the community as a whole.”

What does Harrogate think?

The Harrogate Advertiser has heard from the politicians, now we want to hear from you.

We are encouraging residents and businesses across the Harrogate district to decide which devolution deal would be best for you. Get in touch and let us know email [email protected] with the subject devolution and tweet Twitter with the #HarrogateDevolution to have your say in next weeks newspaper.