Make Wakefield the capital of Yorkshire devolution – Michael McGowan

THE election of a mayor for West Yorkshire this May is an important step in devolution in the region and the choice of the headquarters for the new authority is an important and symbolic decision.

Should Wakefield be the HQ for the new West Yorkshire Combined Authority?

The city of Wakefield has the location, the culture and the history to host the headquarters of the new authority and be the capital of the whole of West Yorkshire.

In fact the county town of the West Riding of Yorkshire was the seat of its county council from 1889 until 1974 when the county was abolished.

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Wakefield is centrally located at the cross roads of the M1 and the M62 motorways, and is on the direct rail line from Leeds to London.

Sir Alec Clegg receives honorary degree from Duchess of Kent in May 1972.

It is an impressive cultural centre blessed with a picturesque landscape and Nicolas Pevsner, the German-British art historian and architectural historian, has said that Wakefield has the best skyline in Britain.

The city has inspired artists, including the sculptor Barbara Hepworth who was at school in Wakefield and said that travelling across the county looking at the landscape and bridges with her father, who was a civil engineer working for the county council, influenced her work.

The author David Storey of This Sporting Life, which was made into a film, and who combined his prolific writing with being a rugby league player, also went to school in Wakefield.

Wakefield was mentioned in the Domesday Book, received its city status in 1888 and as an important trading post on the river Calder developed as an important inland port.

Michael McGowan is the former Labour MEP for Leeds and was a member of the West Riding County Council.

Besides the award-winning Hepworth museum in Wakefield, only a short distance from the city are the Bretton Hall Sculpture Park and the National Coal Mining Museum.

The name that most stamps its influence on Wakefield is Sir Alec Clegg, Chief Education Officer of the West Riding County Council.

He inspired generations of children from 1939 until the demise of the authority in March 1974 when local government was reorganised under Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Clegg pioneered the abolition of the 11 plus examination long before it was a national issue and introduced middle schools.

The legendary conservationist Sir David Attenborough is thenephew of West Riding education pioneer Sir Alec Clegg.

He believed all children have creative talents which should be encouraged 
and he insisted that the legendary 
West Riding String Quartet made an annual visit to all schools across the county.

County Hall Wakefield was the headquarters of the West Riding County Council. It was a meeting place where North Yorkshire landowners and South Yorkshire coal miners decided the future of the county.

The contrast of personalities was stark. Colonel Lane-Fox, from Bramham, and Sir Knowles-Fitton, from Craven, for the Conservatives debated with the National Union of Miners led by Alderman Tom Baynham, from Adwick-le-Street in South Yorkshire, for Labour and agreed plans for comprehensive schools.

It is interesting to note that Sir David Attenborough, who today is a living legend with a passion for the natural world and saving the planet, should be the nephew of Alec Clegg, himself a legend in West Riding education. Attenborough spoke of holidays with his uncle Alec Clegg who told stories to entertain the family with anecdotes about Yorkshire schoolchildren.

For 30 years Alec Clegg delivered educational reform and strived to inspire the creative talents of children across the West Riding whilst his nephew David Attenborough has devoted his life to the love of nature and protecting the world’s species.

It is self-evident, based on education and culture, that Wakefield deserves its own university and the obvious choice of name has to be the Sir Alec Clegg University.

As we move towards One Yorkshire 
the alternatives would include the ‘big cities’ of Leeds, Sheffield and York, but Wakefield would continue to remain the obvious choice for the whole of the Yorkshire region based 
on its location, the culture and the history.

A devolved West Yorkshire is welcome and overdue and an important step forward as we move towards a devolved One Yorkshire. And, of course, the 
nearest experience of regional government in Yorkshire was the West Riding County Council – and leaders like Sir Alec Clegg.

Michael McGowan is the former Labour MEP for Leeds and was a member of the West Riding County Council.

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