Could Harrogate be the home of the new North Yorkshire Council?


Last updated Jan 30, 2022
Knapping Mount in Harrogate.

As the formation North Yorkshire Council edges closer, questions have been raised over where the new authority should be based.

From April 2023, North Yorkshire County Council, Harrogate Borough Council and the six other district authorities will be abolished and replaced with a new council.

A decision has yet to be made on where the new North Yorkshire Council will be based.

North Yorkshire County Council is based at County Hall in Northallerton, which is the hot favourite to be home to the new unitary authority.

But Harrogate’s modern Civic Centre has been suggested as an alternative. Cllr Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, told a Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce meeting this month that Harrogate’s Knapping Mount had a case.

He said:

“It’s still not decided where the new council will be and it could be Harrogate. It would certainly have the best office facilities in North Yorkshire.”

No decision will be made on the location until after the May local government elections. So what are Harrogate’s prospects and what is at stake?

Harrogate or Northallerton?

The location of the new authority will be one of the key decisions that councillors make in the coming 12 months.

Ninety councillors will be elected to North Yorkshire Council, covering 650,000 residents and 32,000 businesses across England’s largest county.

The location of the new council matters because most key decisions will be made there.

Across North Yorkshire, Harrogate is the highest populated town with 75,070 people. The town itself is one of the two main urban areas in the county, along with Scarborough, and benefits from transport links, a vibrant hospitality sector and various public facilities.

North Yorkshire County Council offices in Northallerton.

It also has a modern council facility. The Knapping Mount headquarters, which staff moved into in July 2020, is purpose-built for local government. It is designed to accommodate 500 staff.

The council said the building cost £13 million. However, the Stray Ferret investigated the overall cost of the move from Crescent Gardens and put the figure closer to £17 million.

County Hall in Northallerton was built in 1906 and has served as the headquarters of various local governments in North Yorkshire, including North Riding County Council up until 1974.

The grade II listed building underwent a £500,000 refurbishment in 1999.

Cllr Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council. Picture: NYCC.

Cllr Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council. Picture: NYCC.

Conservative Cllr Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, told the Stray Ferret that it would make sense for the new council to remain at county hall.

However, he added that the authority does plan to implement local office space for staff and a “double devolution” agenda for local decision making.

He said:

“It will be for the new council to decide. But there is a lot of jobs in Northallerton.

“It would not make sense to move from Northallerton.”

The sentiment is echoed by Liberal Democrat Cllr Philip Broadbank, who represents Starbeck on the county council. He said:

“There is a high chance it would in Northallerton because it is more central.

“The Harrogate council has been mentioned, but it needs to be central.”

But for Independent Cllr Stuart Parsons, the future needs to be based around regional decision making.

Cllr Parsons, who represents Richmond on the county council, said the council needed to be “trimmed” and decision-making should be spread around the county.

He said:

“I suspect they [the council[ see themselves where they are. But no one has thought to ask if that is sensible.”

Why does the council’s location matter?

Much of the criticism over the new council is that it is too remote.

The county is scattered in terms of populations, with an estimated 160,830 people in the Harrogate district compared to 55,380 in Ryedale.

Having such a large county makes the headquarter issue even more important.

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For example, if a planning decision relates to Starbeck the issues are more likely to be understood by council officers based in Harrogate than in Northallerton

Cllr Parsons said there needed to be a plan for how “double devolution”, which would give powers to local areas, is distributed.

“There needs to be a short, medium and long-term plan. We are nowhere near that.”

What happens now?

County council leaders have said a decision on where the new council will be based will not be made until after the May elections.

Currently, an implementation board made up of senior council officers and an implementation executive, which includes cabinet members from across the county, is working through proposals.

Once the new councillors are elected, decisions will be made on matters such as location, planning, senior management committees ahead of North Yorkshire Council coming into operation in April 2023.

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