Harrogate and Knaresborough residents would be the most underrepresented in North Yorkshire under proposals to change councillor boundaries for the county’s new unitary authority.
The proposal, which will be submitted to the government by the leader of North Yorkshire County Council, would see the number of councillors in Harrogate and Knaresborough reduced to 13 with each representing an average of 6,194 residents.
This would be higher than all other constituency areas in the county.
There would be an average of 5,546 residents per councillor in Skipton and Ripon, 5,472 in Selby and Ainsty, 5,169 in Richmondshire, 5,099 in Thirsk and Malton, and 5,005 in Scarborough and Whitby.
It would also mean one councillor in Cayton, Scarborough would represent 3,680 residents, while another in Knaresborough Castle and Aspin would serve almost double that with 6,690.
The boundary changes were agreed for submission to the government by county council leader Carl Les at a meeting on Tuesday when concerns were raised that residents’ voices would be diluted and councillors’ workloads increased.
‘Unfair on people of Harrogate and Knaresborough’
Liberal Democrat Cllr Philip Broadbank, who represents the Starbeck area on both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council, said the proposals were “particularly unfair on the people of Harrogate and Knaresborough”.
“It just doesn’t seem right that one particular area, for some unknown reason, should be at a disadvantage to the rest of them.
“I do accept that when we tell voters we are going to reduce the number of councillors, most of them will say ‘oh good’.
“But I get angry about this because it is such an important issue. Electoral balance is absolutely vital if we want this new council to work and people to accept it is going to be fair and balanced.
“I just don’t understand why such a large area of people should be underrepresented.”
Cllr Broadbank also put forward separate proposals to increase the number of Harrogate and Knaresborough members on the new authority to 14, which would reduce the average residents per councillor to below 6,000.
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However, this was shut down by Cllr John Weighell, who led a cross-party working which came up with the plans to be submitted to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government for a decision.
Cllr Weighell said while he accepted some residents would be underrepresented, it would be “completely wrong” to break up town centre boundaries in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
‘Only way to maintain identity’
He also argued many currently serving councillors who sit on both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council already manage their workloads for a similar amount of residents.
“I do accept underrepresentation, I always have, but I think this is absolutely the only way to maintain community identity.
“Of the 18 Harrogate and Knaresborough members currently in the borough council area, 16 are twin-hatted and that says everything really.
“Some people are saying ‘we can’t represent that number of residents’ – but they are doing it already.”
If approved by the government, the boundary changes would come into force when a shadow authority is elected to the new unitary council in March 2022.
The new arrangements would then stay in place until 2027 when the Boundary Commission will carry out a full review.
Across North Yorkshire, there would be 89 councillors serving the county’s 600,000 population.
This would be a higher proportion of representatives than the 99 that serve Leeds’ 800,000 residents, but a lower proportion than the 126 councillors who serve County Durham’s 425,000 population.