York would be merged with neighbouring councils as part of local government shake-up proposed by Ryedale leader Keane Duncan

An alternative North Yorkshire devolution plan which would see York's council ceasing to exist in its current form and the city connected with neighbouring areas to provide local government services has been put forward by a council leader.

Council leader Keane Duncan at Ryedale Council, Pictured at Malton Market Place, Malton, 5th June 2019.Picture by Simon Hulme

Keane Duncan, the leader of Ryedale District Council, has floated the plans which he says will “keep local government local” as part of the deal which would see powers and funding handed over to North Yorkshire from Westminster.

Minister Simon Clarke has told political leaders in England's largest county that they must end the two-tier system of local government and create unitary authorities, which provide the full range of council services, in order to get a devolution deal.

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North Yorkshire County Council has proposed that a single unitary body be created for the whole of North Yorkshire outside York, with City of York Council remaining intact.

This would lead to the abolition of the seven existing district authorities and see one council representing around 600,000 people and City of York continuing to serve a population of around 200,000.

Coun Duncan says he is working with other district leaders to explore the creation of two unitary authorities of roughly equal size, each with 400,000 residents, by involving York in proposals.

He said: He said: “A county-wide option would be the largest unitary ever created in England in terms of both population and area. Nothing so large and remote exists anywhere else.

“My aim is to keep local government local. But this isn't just about size, it's about identity too.

“For Ryedale, we have much greater links and connections with the City of York than more distant parts of North Yorkshire. In fact, a large chunk of the city’s suburbs was part of Ryedale district until 1996.

“While the county council’s proposal seeks the status quo in York, the city is very much integral to the options we’re looking at.

“Connecting it with neighbouring areas like Ryedale holds great potential for jobs and investment. It would also allow us to push for the long-awaited dualling of the A64 with renewed strength and unity.

“The outcome would be two new authorities of roughly equal size. Both would be big enough to be cost effective and small enough to keep connected with the public.

“This alternative option should not only out-perform the 'super council’ in financial terms, but empower communities and enrich democracy at the same time.

"We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right.”

As part of the process which would see an elected metro mayor and a mayoral authority created for North Yorkshire and York, Mr Clarke has asked for submissions about the shape of local government by September. A public consultation will then be held before a decision is made about which local government model is taken forward.

Reorganisation could see new authorities formed as soon as May 2022, with devolution of powers following in May 2023 with the election of a ‘metro mayor’ for the area.

The county council’s leadership believes creating a single authority on its current boundaries will create “very considerable savings”, which will help it continue delivering services following very challenging times financially for local government and new pressures brought with Covid-19.

But Scarborough Council’s leader says North Yorkshire County Council’s desire for one authority to cover the county under devolution plans would “remove any sense of local government”.

Coun Steve Siddons said that the county’s plan had previously been rejected as being “too big and remote” and he did not agree with its desire to revive it.

City of York's Liberal Democrat leader Keith Aspden said devolution should not mean changes to the authority's boundaries.

He said: “City of York has worked successfully as a unitary authority since 1996, representing a unique self-governing and historic city. We do not believe that any changes to our structures or boundaries are required.”

Meanwhile, the guardians of a national park have warned they will not support the latest proposed North Yorkshire and York devolution deal unless they can keep jurisdiction over planning.

A full meeting of the North York Moors National Park Authority heard its leaders had been left in the dark over the plan to create one or more unitary authorities across the area as part of devolution, and scepticism raised over whether the changes would go ahead given a number of other priorities announced by the government.

In spite of the uncertainty, members said they remained supportive of the financial asks and wider environmental ambitions being put to government.

Members of the park authority approved a recommendation to press for the authority to also retain primacy over its key purposes to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of the park’s special qualities.

Additional reporting by Local Democracy Reporters Stuart Minting, Chloe Laversuch and Carl Gavaghan