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Calls to revert to district committees over fears local voices will be ‘drowned out’

Friday, May 27th, 2022 3:16pm

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter

Fears that Craven voices will be “drowned out” when a new council covering the whole of North Yorkshire is created have ignited calls for a return to a district committee system.

When plans for the new North Yorkshire Council were first announced in 2020, there was a pledge that more decision-making powers would be filtered down to the county’s six area committees which are based on parliamentary boundaries.

The plans have been supported by councillors of all political stripes, but there are now calls to revert to committees for each of the seven districts in Harrogate, Craven, Selby, Scarborough, Richmondshire, Hambleton and Ryedale which will all lose their local councils next April.

Craven councillor Andy Brown, who was last month elected as one of North Yorkshire’s first Green councillors, said there should be a “rethink” of the geography as the areas that the current committees cover are too large to be considered “local”.

He told a Craven District Council meeting on Tuesday: “The Skipton and Ripon parliamentary constituency stretches from Ingleton over to Masham – that is an enormous area to describe as a local.

“I’ll be trying to persuade the members of the committee that we need to rethink the geography.

“And I do think across the whole of North Yorkshire there will be a lot of councillors that want the geographical unit they champion to be logical, smaller and closer to voters.”

Conservative councillor Richard Foster, leader of Craven District Council, responded to say while he had an “open mind” about change, there was a case to be made that it is better to have “strength in numbers” in terms of committee members.

The current committees typically have 13 councillors and were introduced in 2018 as a way of aligning with MP boundaries which have a similar number of constituents.

It was also hoped the move would encourage North Yorkshire’s MPs to attend council meetings.

However, the changes were branded as “an attack on democracy” by some critics and the attendance of MPs has been patchy.

The committees cover Harrogate and Knaresborough, Scarborough and Whitby, Selby and Ainsty, Skipton and Ripon, Thirsk and Malton, and Richmond which could all be given greater control over areas such as planning and licensing when the new North Yorkshire Council launches next April.

This was a pledge from councillor Carl Les, the Conservative leader of North Yorkshire County Council, who said he wanted to see a “double devolution” over powers being passed down to the committees, as well as town and parish councils.

Councillor Les told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he believes the current system has worked “very well” and that he could see no reason for change.

He said: “Not only did we want to have a better link with our parliamentarians which we have established through the area constituency committees, we also had great differences in sizes.

“We had Richmond and Ryedale with six committee members, and Harrogate with around 26.

“I can’t see why we would now want to return to district council boundaries when they won’t exist in ten months’ time.”

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