Harrogate leader Richard Cooper accuses North Yorkshire's Carl Les and York's Keith Aspden of a 'stitch-up' over appointment to Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Commission

The tensions at the top of North Yorkshire politics have boiled over in a meeting after a council leader accused two of his counterparts of a "stitch-up" over an appointment to a new climate change body.

Harrogate leader Richard Cooper criticised North Yorkshire's Carl Les and City of York's Keith Aspden after Coun Aspden put himself forward to be the vice-chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Commission.

At a meeting of Local Government North Yorkshire and York, Coun Cooper said the result was "already stitched up" but argued that he would be a better choice for the position because of his longstanding interest in climate change issues.

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Climate change commission launches in Yorkshire and the Humber to tackle crisis ...
Harrogate leader Richard Cooper criticised North Yorkshire's Carl Les and City of York's Keith Aspden after Coun Aspden put himself forward to be the vice-chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Commission.

In the end Coun Aspden withdrew his bid and allowed the Harrogate leader to run unopposed for the role on the organisation, which will be launched later this month. It will initially focus on the pressing issues of employment and resilience to flooding.

The row at the meeting last week mirrored the current dividing lines in North Yorkshire politics, with North Yorkshire and York at odds with district leaders over plans to replace the current two-tier system of local government in the county.

While North Yorkshire and City of York propose creating a single county-wide unitary authority with York left separate, district leaders have submitted plans for two councils split on an east-west basis with York merged into the eastern authority.

And Liberal Democrat Coun Aspden said a lack of support for his nomination by other leaders was "a sign of where we're at in regards to other issues".

The meeting was told that the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Commission will be launched on March 17, with an independent chair appointed by the end of next week.

So far there have been 60 applications to be commissioners and 24 had been appointed, representing sectors and including energy, housing, transport, food and drink and the NHS.

Four political vice-chairs are being chosen, with Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis representing South Yorkshire and Jack Hemingway, the Deputy Leader of Wakefield council, representing West Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les proposed Coun Aspden to be the North Yorkshire vice-chair, but told the meeting he was unaware Coun Cooper was also interested. He suggested there should be a vote of members to decide.

But because of the way votes are weighted - with North Yorkshire's vote worth seven, York's worth four and districts and national park authorities worth one each - the result would have inevitably been for the York leader.

Coun Cooper told Coun Aspden: "It just seems to me to be an extremely weak reason for the leader of the county council to support you simply because he didn't know I was going to put a nomination in.

"That to me doesn't seem like the best use of a democratic mandate, it should be the best person for the job. And I'm happy to describe why I'm the best person for the job.

"But if it's already stitched up between the proposer and the seconder, because you'd spoken about beforehand, I'm not sure that appears to be a great deal of point."

Coun Cooper's bid to be vice-chair was proposed by Selby leader Mark Crane and seconded by Richmondshire's Angie Dale.

Setting out why he believed he was the best choice, he said he was "passionate" about the role. He said he moved a net zero emissions motion at the county council and campaigned for its active travel campaign in the face of some public opinion.

He said that as he worked for Harrogate MP Andrew Jones as a day job he had some "good links to the governing party in the House of Commons" and that the issue was "in the genes" because his brother was Andrew Cooper, the leader of Kirklees council Green party group.

Coun Aspden said he would be happy to be the Harrogate leader's substitute as vice-chair, recognising that issues such as flood resilience were a particular issue locally, especially in York.

He said: "I do think that the spirit of working together across York and North Yorkshire on these issues is perhaps more more important than allegations of behind-closed-doors decisions which of course can be levied at anybody and everybody depending on the situation."

But Coun Cooper said the question of substitutes should not be decided at the meeting as the constitution of the commission had yet to be set.

He added: "And I do think the question for this meeting is about being able to appoint a member who has demonstrated they have a genuine interest in the issue with concrete examples of how they acted and behaved with regard to the environment and what they can bring to the environment commission through that.

"I also think it's important that we appoint someone with democratic legitimacy. And I don't think having someone proposed and seconded, one of the nominees being the seconder and receiving 11 votes from two people while the remainder or some of the remainder, don't support that nomination, but only have one vote each will give democratic legitimacy for this body appointing somebody to that climate commission."

He also remarked that the proposal by Coun Les for the York leader to be chair had not been seconded by anyone. Coun Aspden said: "Sadly, I'd clocked this as just a sign of where we're at, at the moment, in regards to other issues."

In the end Coun Aspden asked Coun Les to withdraw his nomination and Coun Cooper was voted in as vice-chair.

A two-month consultation is currently underway over which of the two local government proposals should be imposed by the Government, with a decision due in the summer.