Devolution: good or bad for local voices in planning?


Last updated Sep 17, 2020

Residents groups in Harrogate are divided on whether devolution will increase the strength of local voice in the planning process.

Central government wants fewer, bigger local authorities as part of its plans to devolve power making.

North Yorkshire County Council has proposed creating one large authority that would serve all 610,000 people in the county besides York.

The seven district councils, including Harrogate Borough Council, have put forward an alternative east / west model that would result in two slightly smaller authorities.

Whatever happens will have major implications on how planning decisions are made in the district.

The Stray Ferret spoke to three local residents groups for their views.

Kingsley, Harrogate

John Hansard, from the Kingsley Ward Action Group, is worried that a larger authority would make it more difficult for the group’s voice to be heard in the planning process.

Currently, housing decisions are made by HBC’s planning committee, which is made up of local councillors. But Mr Hansard said that if a future planning committee were run from Northallerton, with members from places like Skipton or Scarborough, they wouldn’t have the same local insight as HBC councillors have.

He said:

“If you have a planning issue you can rely on local councillors to come down to the area and have a look. With NYCC you’d have no chance. We’d lose our local voice if it was put into their hands. It would be a step backwards.”

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Harlow and Pannal Ash

Rene Dziabas, chairman of Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents Association (HAPARA), spoke in a personal capacity to the Stray Ferret and said he has become frustrated with how Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council pass issues back and forth. He said a unitary authority would improve accountability.

He said:

“The majority of functions here are carried out by NYCC but other functions, like planning, are run by HBC. I’ve attended many meetings over the past few years and you get the bounce between the two. HBC says ‘it’s nothing to do with us’, and NYCC says the same thing. That needs sorting out.”

Mr Dziabas added that whatever organisation ends up taking control of Harrogate, they “must be more proactive” in taking on board the opinions of residents.

He said:

“There is a great feeling at the moment that whatever you say is ignored. In the whole devolution process, they must build in localism, so local people feel that they are involved in the things where they live.”


Barbara Brodigan represents Ripon Residents Action Group and is mobilising local people against Homes England’s 1,300-home proposal at Ripon Barracks.

She said Ripon felt left out of decisions made by Harrogate Borough Council:

“That is the feeling from residents. They always feel like we are the Cinderella and the poor relation in the district.”

Ms Brodigan said whichever devolution model was adopted, the voices of local residents must be heard.

She added:

“How much local power cities or town councils will have over planning is generally a worry, as are the government’s planning reforms, which will take away a lot of local decisions.”

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