Is it time for a Harrogate Town Council and what are the chances of it happening

Far from being downgraded in the more powerful version of North Yorkshire agreed by the Government, many are saying it may herald the arrival of a new Harrogate Town Council.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 5:00 pm
Should Harrogate's civic amenities such as the Valley Gardens be run by a new Harrogate Town Council after the district council is abolished as part of local government reorganisation.

One in eight people in North Yorkshire live in Harrogate.

It’s a simple figure but one which may have major significance for Harrogate’s future in the new North Yorkshire ‘super authority’ given the go-ahead by the Government last week.

As one of biggest towns in the county, its importance is unlikely to disappear over-night even as it loses power to the new giant North Yorkshire-wide council in 2023.

The demise of Harrogate Borough Council may also herald the revival for the first time in decades of a new Harrogate Town Council.

One important group backing the idea of a purely Harrogate-based council is Harrogate Civic Society.

It argues that last week’s decision by Secretary of State for Local Government Robert Jenrick MP to give Northlallerton control of the entire county, save for York, makes a town council for Harrogate essential.

Stuart Holland, Harrogate Civic Society co-chair, said: “Thousands of visitors are attracted to Harrogate in normal times because of its gardens and open spaces.

“Such an important aspect of the town could be lost without a local town council. The town has been winner of Britain in Bloom 11 times and is a Champion of Champions town within the RHS competition scheme.

“That relies on local governance and coordination with the local authority.

“We would urge the Government to recognise the position and role of Harrogate in any future proposals and to ensure, at an early stage, the creation of a town council.”

A former conservation and design manager at Harrogate Borough Council goes one step further.

Writing in today’s Harrogate Advertiser, David Rhodes argues it affords new and better opportunities to capitalise on the town’s spa heritage in a much more effective manner.

Mr Rhodes said: “Over the last 50 years Harrogate has put little if any investment in. A new Harrogate Town Council might once again allow thetown to care for its Spa origins and compete as a spa attraction of international merit.

“Ideally, it could use some of the £40 million investment planned for Harrogate Convention Centre to create a global ‘spa park’ attraction on the site of the doomed Halls A, B and C, and refurbish the Royal Hall, concert hall and theatre for complementary attractions.”

Nothing is yet set in stone but such voices may be knocking at an open door.

Although other areas in the district such as Ripon already have a parish or city council, Harrogate and Scarborough are the only major towns in the whole of North Yorkshire not served by one.

At the height of the political battle of wills last summer between Northallerton and the county’s seven district councils, including Harrogate’s, over who would win the bid to run North Yorkshire in future, the county council acknowledged that Harrogate would have to retain a voice after 2023.

Speaking last July, the county council’s chief executive Richard Flinton said: “Just as happens right now with the Harrogate and Knaresborough Area Constituency Committee of county councillors, we will do the same in the new authority based on the areas of MPs.

“There will be a bigger role for town and parish councils for areas which don’t currently have them, including Scarborough and Harrogate.”

Such are the remaining imponderables of the local government shake-up, it’s not impossible it may enable Knaresborough Town Council to once again manage its prize assets including Knaresborough Castle while Ripon City Council might be able to manage the Town Hall, Wakemans House, Spa Gardens and more.

It's still very early days in the planned transformation of North Yorkshire.

There’s still much to play for as work starts on the transition to the county’s new “super council” - a huge logistical task in itself with considerations of elections, buildings, services, staffing levels and much more.

But all the signs are Harrogate is about to lose one role to gain another.

Coun Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire County Council’s Executive Member for Access, said there was a lot of work to do, there was no exact timetable yet but the new unitary intended to make the creation of town councils a priority.

Coun Mackenzie said: “Town and parish councils will provide essential democratic representation locally below the level of the unitary authority.

“The absence of a town council for Harrogate and Scarborough means there could be a democratic deficiency for the residents of those two towns.

“I am not aware of a precise timetable for the creation of the two town councils, but it will certainly be a priority.”

Coun Richard Cooper, the leader of the soon to be disbanded Harrogate Borough Council, said earlier this month it was “inevitable” that a new Harrogate Town Council would be created under the plans for major local government reorganisation and a review of how services are run would now be required.

Speaking this week, he said whatever came to pass over a future Harrogate Town Council, he hoped it would be divorced from politics.

Coun Cooper said: “Whether or not there is a Harrogate Town Council is a decision for the new authority but I hope it isn’t a political authority.

“Where we have seen party politics come into parish councils I don’t think they have served residents well nor in the way they were intended to when parish councils were set up.”

What Harrogate Civic Society says about the idea of a Harrogate Town Council

Harrogate Civic Society says the unique nature of the town, from the Stray to its conference facilities, means creating a Harrogate Town Council is essential.

It said: “The town has an amazing collection of listed buildings in public ownership and the enthusiasm and local knowledge that can go into preserving, managing and developing these assets should stay local.

“Buildings such as the Royal Hall, Royal Baths, Pump Room Museum, Mercer Gallery, Sun Pavilion are in public ownership.

“The 200 acre Stray, although owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, is currently managed by Harrogate District Council.

“After unification, the Stray should be managed locally and not by a new unitary authority.

“A town council will be able to enhance the efforts made to retain the gardens, parks and planted area. Together with support for the creation of a town council, adequate financial resources should be made available to allow the newly-formed council to work effectively."