Why North Yorkshire unitary council should be halted – Paul Andrews

THE Cabinet reshuffle a few weeks ago enables a new team of Ministers to review the decisions that had made the Government increasingly unpopular.

Should Michael Gove pause the North Yorkshire local government shake-up?

One of the ministers who lost his job was Robert Jenrick, whose brief included local government. It would seem that one reason for his dismissal was the way in which he was trying to reform planning law and policy.

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He clearly had no previous experience of planning and no idea of the likely unwelcome consequences of his ideas.

Michael Gove is being urged to pause North Yorkshire's local government shake-up.

So, it is good news that the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, who has inherited Mr Jenrick’s brief, has paused these unpopular reforms.

One hopes Mr Gove will not stop there. The reform of planning law is not the only poor decision which requires review.

For example, there was no public clamour for a local government review in North Yorkshire, and no need for it either, but Mr Jenrick went ahead anyway and the result will cost £18m or more of public money which could be best spent on other projects, for example supporting the health service.

What will be the impact of the North Yorkshire local governmrnt shake-up on towns like Harrogate?

The consultation on the review highlighted Mr Jenrick’s incompetence.

As there was more than one proposal, Mr Jenrick had to set out some criteria, particularly in regard to the optimum size of unitary councils. This was set at a population level of about 400,000.

The North Yorkshire districts foolishly took him at his word, and this is why, as I understand, they included York in the proposed East/West split.

However, when it came to making the decision, Mr Jenrick seems to have taken no notice of the criteria his department had set for judging competing bids against each other.

The paperwork submitted to him comprised long reports by consultants and officers. His decision letter is three pages long, is in general terms and there is no detailed examination or comparison of the respective cases offered by either county or districts.

His decision letter was an insult to everybody concerned, bearing in mind the money spent on experts, the potential cost of the reorganisation itself, and the ramifications and impact on residents. He clearly could not have cared less if he had got the decision right or wrong.

The decisions made by Mr Jenrick were not only inconsistent with his own criteria, but also inconsistent with each other.

North Yorkshire has a population of 600,000 people which the decision letter notes is “just over the range of population size set out in the invitation”.

So England’s largest county, North Yorkshire, is set to become a unitary council, whilst Cumbria (population 500,000) is split into two unitaries!

Mr Jenrick relied on differences in geography between the two counties to justify the inconsistency, and of course it is true that Cumbria includes the Lake District – but has he never heard of the Yorkshire Dales or the North York Moors?

It is an outrage that residents of historic towns like Harrogate or Scarborough should not be allowed to elect councillors to run local services or to plan their future. How can a 10-person executive in Northallerton possibly know how to run a harbour, for example?

The only way the new authority will be able to plan its business will be by producing one-size-fits-all plans and one-size-fits-all computer models. This will be rigidly interpreted and applied by officers and officials and is unlikely to take into account the vast diversity which exists within England’s largest county.

Here in Ryedale, we’ve been at the wrong end of NYCC’s one-size-fits-all computer model in regard to highways planning. It would be a surprise if they don’t deal with everything they take over from districts in exactly the same way – including planning.

Then there is the issue of assets. All the financial reserves and assets of the councils which are taken over will go to the new authority. These are assets which have been used for the local community which has paid for them in full.

All these will be transferred to the new authority, which may decide to sell them, and there is no guarantee that money received from any of the district councils will be spent where they were taken from or that the value of any assets sold will be spent in the district which built them.

Districts administered by spendthrift councils will benefit at the expense of districts whose councils have been careful with their money. Mr Gove should pause the proposed reorganisations and allow time to reflect.

Paul Andrews represents Malton as an Independent councillor on Ryedale District Council.

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