Harrogate agrees devolution deal 'in principle' to join West Yorkshire Authority

Harrogate viaduct
Harrogate viaduct

Harrogate Borough Council has voted to join the Leeds City Region Combined Authority's (LCRCA) devolution proposal as associate members.

The chief executive and leader of the council will now continue negotiating with the Government and enter into an 'in principle' membership agreement.

Members also voted unanimously in favour of exploring the possibility of joining the West Yorkshire devolution as full members at the full council meeting last night.

Proposals over this full membership will now be developed for council members ahead of a decisive devolution date before the March 31 deadline.

While last night's does not prevent the council from joining other devolution deals as either full or associate members, it does give Harrogate a 'seat at the table'.

Councillors also agreed with their free vote to discuss joining the York, North Yorkshire, East Riding (YNYER) devolution deal if and when its proposal materialised.

The leader of the council, Coun Richard Cooper said that, while last night's was not a 'crunch decision', it was important for Harrogate to consider all the options available.

He said: "I had promised to present any devolution proposals which affect our district to members as and when they are presented to government, or when it seemed imminent, and have a free vote.

"The LCRCA will be making decisions that will have an effect on us, we would want to at the very least know what those decisions are.

"I want us to make our judgements based on evidence. Life could be fantastic as part of a LCRCA full member.

"They could offer to pave our streets with gold, they could offer us a bypass tomorrow and a Leeds Parkway Station for the airport and greater tourism input.

"Then again, we could be marginalised, our core interests ignored and neglected. What I want to know is which of those scenarios, or anything in between is what full membership will look like."

Coun Cooper reiterated the fact that, despite a Greater Yorkshire deal was his preferred option, the proposal could not be presented to members as it had 'not materialised'.

North Yorkshire County Council has already criticised Harrogate for rushing a decision on devolution and making a 'premature' choice on a crucial issue.

And last night, County Councillor Don Mackenzie and Coun Cooper clashed again, this time over the wording of the recommendation.

The councillors eventually agreed on the recommendation's phrasing but Coun Mackenzie again warned of pursuing a deal with West Yorkshire.

He said: "By bringing this amendment, I was not in any way suggesting that we should not look at the deal but I had concerns about the wording.

"One usually 'seeks' things in order to get them. The impression was that this was our first option.

"But the Greater Yorkshire deal has always been the favoured option of the leader of NYCC and the preferred leader of this council.

"The reason Greater Yorkshire is not going forward is the leaders of the LCRCA do not want it to go forward as it would lead to a Conservative mayor.

"Let's not forget that, so to reward them by having a proposal which 'seeks' membership of their combined authority gives the wrong message."

Coun Cooper had criticised NYCC on stalling over their YNYER proposal, telling them to 'pull their finger out' so council members could consider it.

However, Coun Mackenzie explained that the reason for the delay was that they 'remain true' to pursuing the Greater Yorkshire bid.

Both Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors backed the idea of exploring the benefits of an associate or full membership of a LCRCA devolution deal.

Coun Pat Marsh, leader of the opposition, said: "We need to explore the options that are on the table and the one that is closest is the Leeds City Region.

"It's got to the finishing post and it's got there a lot quicker than the others. If we don't give it serious consideration it we might miss the boat."

Coun Jean Butterfield (Cons) said: "All we are saying is let's look at what's on the table. It may be that when we we see it we say 'no way' but what's the harm in looking?

"I think that's disrespectful to our taxpayers to say we know better than you do. If it isn't a good offer we can say 'well we did look at it'."

Coun Cooper concluded the discussion by reiterating the council would consider all devolution options equally and urged North Yorkshire to bring theirs to the table.

He said: "Coun Mackenzie said about the playing the game on a level playing field with the other offers, well I'm on the pitch.

"The Leeds City Region deal is also on the pitch and I say to those supporting the Greater Yorkshire and YNYER deal, I need to see your balls on the pitch."