Why North Yorkshire doesn’t need a mayor after we won fracking fight – Paul Andrews

Ryedale Council, says Paul Andrews, played a key role stopping fracking in North Yorkshire.Ryedale Council, says Paul Andrews, played a key role stopping fracking in North Yorkshire.
Ryedale Council, says Paul Andrews, played a key role stopping fracking in North Yorkshire.
WINSTON Churchill once said: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others.”

Without democracy we have no freedom: we become the slaves of whoever happens to be in power. So, if democracy is expensive, it is not a luxury.

This particularly applies to local government. True democracy requires all decisions to be taken at the lowest possible level by the people directly affected. District councils should not take decisions which parish councils can make, and decisions should not be taken at a county level which can be taken at a lower level.

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Clearly there are many matters, such as town and country planning and refuse collection, which are best taken at a 
lower level than county, but which no parish council could afford to undertake itself.

Paul Andrews has previously taken part in protests about traffic pollution in Malton.Paul Andrews has previously taken part in protests about traffic pollution in Malton.
Paul Andrews has previously taken part in protests about traffic pollution in Malton.

This is why country areas have country district councils. If the districts are removed, one important level of democracy is lost, and democracy as a whole is weakened.

Unfortunately, this country has no written constitution to prevent governments from taking decision- making away from local people, and this is exactly what the proposed reorganisation of North Yorkshire is all about because it appears we can have a mayor only if we agree to reorganise.

We are lucky to have our own district council in Ryedale. When there is flooding, for example, we have a works department we can call upon to spring into action at once – we don’t have to wait for North Yorkshire County Council or the Environment Agency to get themselves organised.

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Metropolitan and county councils have cabinets – small single-party committees with executive authority. These are anti-democratic as they marginalise all other elected members.

How should North Yorkshire be governed in the future?How should North Yorkshire be governed in the future?
How should North Yorkshire be governed in the future?

Margaret Thatcher tried to prevent this from happening by enacting that all council committees should be politically proportional. Unfortunately this good work was undone by Tony Blair.

At present district councils are, in effect, the only real check on the power of North Yorkshire’s over-mighty and unrepresentative Conservative cabinet. When a Conservative government decided to open up North Yorkshire to fracking, and NYCC’s Conservative cabinet went along with this, it was still possible to oppose fracking through the district councils.

Ryedale held back from taking action to close down a protest camp, and pressure was brought on North Yorkshire through the district councils to improve its minerals plan so as to provide a fair balance between the interests of residents and the frackers. Without district councils in place, the door will be wide open for central government to impose unwelcome development which it designates as “in the national interest” on unsuspecting residents.

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We should resist the siren calls of gurus from big business who think local government would be strengthened by having powerful mayors and huge metropolitan councils in country areas. In commerce, big may well be beautiful, as commercial success has to be earned, but government does not work like this. Revenue comes from taxes and grants, and the pressure is always on to spend one’s budget before year end. The only effective financial control is accountability to democratically-elected councillors. I have worked for both district councils and large metropolitan ones and my experience is this – the bigger the authority, the more they seem to become sprawling empires of inefficiency and incompetence.

North Yorkshire is no different. In my ward, for example, its incompetence on highways has led to a change of priorities without consultation; a five-year delay in implementing an HGV restriction it had accepted as critical for development authorised in Ryedale’s local plan, approving a single access to a proposed superstore onto a heavily overused minor road, and a huge new petrol station and store at a known town centre traffic hot spot.

There is no need for mayors in areas like North Yorkshire. Our main industries are agriculture and tourism. Other industries may be important or desirable, but none can be more important than the one which produces the food we eat. We don’t need a mayor to bring in fancy new industries or to get fancy new skyscrapers built, and we certainly don’t need another local government reorganisation.

Paul Andrews is an Independent councillor who represents Malton on Ryedale Council.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson

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