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Craven District Council leader looks ahead as council enters its final days

Tuesday, 28 March 2023 15:12

By Thomas Barrett, Local Democracy Reporter

Craven District Council leader Richard Foster will end his 19 years on the council this week but, unusually for a politician, it’s not the electorate which has decided his time is up.

The council will be abolished to make way for North Yorkshire Council — a new unitary authority for the county that will take charge of all responsibilities currently shared by CDC and North Yorkshire County Council.

The Conservative member for Grassington was elected in 2004 and became council leader a decade later. He’s helped steer the authority through the choppy waters of austerity as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Cllr Foster, who will represent the Wharfedale division on the new council, said the last twenty years have gone by like a blur. He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “When I was asked if I wanted to stand I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and all of a sudden I was voted in!”

The council leader said trying to keep services running with less and less money has been a theme of his time on Craven District Council. It’s been a balancing act as he said councillors also have to persuade residents that cuts are not made to be “nasty”.

Cllr Foster still regrets a meeting he attended in the early days of being a councillor when it was decided that some public toilets were to close.

“It’s a big regret. I protested but I was told to shut up. It’s not something we should have done.”

“Charging for garden waste was also not popular but we couldn’t afford to run the service so we had to make the call so bins could still turn up.”

Despite the financial constraints the council has been under, he said Craven is possibly the easiest place in the country to be a councillor due to the mentality of its residents.

He said: “The public have been generally great, that’s been fantastic. People are very self-reliant. In a way it’s been easy but at the same time people would vote you out if they think you weren’t doing a good job”.

Key projects from his time on the council include a £4.7m refurbishment of Skipton Town hall and the Langcliffe Quarry project, which has seen a former refuse tip transformed into a state-of-the-art business centre in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

But it’s the smaller interventions that often go unsung that Cllr Foster says he’s found the most rewarding. 

“The smaller projects tick over and they are the bits that make communities tick. Sometimes it’s really small amounts of money but they let organisations thrive and grow. I’ve always thought, how do we tweak things so they can just move forward?“

North Yorkshire Council has a slogan that it wants to be England’s most local large council. Cllr Foster believes it will be a challenge to ensure Craven has a voice at County Hall in Northallerton, which is an almost 100-mile round trip from Skipton. He said: “We’re going to be fighting that people’s voices are heard at the top table but it’s not going to be easy with 90 members to make sure your ward has a voice.”

Next year is set to see the creation of a new mayor for York and North Yorkshire who will take charge of a new combined authority.

But Cllr Foster said he fears the role will become York or Harrogate-focused, which could lead to Craven losing out. He said: “It’s got to be worry. If you get a mayor thats York based it will look to York. There are 200,000 people in York and 100,00 in Harrogate, if you can keep those places sweet you’re alright.“

Craven has been one of the most well-run district councils in North Yorkshire and Cllr Foster says after 49 years it will be leaving this part of the world in a good place. He said: “We were pretty good custodians really. We did our best to look after Craven with pressures of modern world. We moved the council to the 21st century and it’s looking ahead now. Should we have done more? I don’t think so.“

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