The Masham businesswoman aiming to be North Yorkshire’s first mayor
Apr 16, 2024

Felciity Cunliffe-Lister has not been in the political arena for long — but she feels she is the strongest candidate to become the first Mayor of York and North Yorkshire.

The co-owner of the Swinton Estate in Masham is the Liberal Democrat candidate on polling day on May 2.

However, despite being the official party candidate, she believes the role should be decided on who has the best business skillset.

She told the Stray Ferret that her two decades experience of running Swinton coupled with her years as a commercial property lawyer in London put her in a good position for the role.

Ms Cunliffe-Lister said:

“The reason why I’m doing it personally is because I think you need somebody with the right skillset to do it.

“I think you need somebody with a really strong proven track record in business. I don’t think you should be appointing someone with a strong political career.”

Ms Cunliffe-Lister worked in property law in London during her 20s. One of the major projects she was involved with was London Eye.

She moved to Masham with husband Mark following the family buy-back of Swinton Park.  The couple converted the castle into a hotel and opened it in 2001.

Felicity Cunliffe-Lister

The Swinton estate as a whole now has a £6 million turnover and employs 150 people.

It’s this that Ms Cunliffe-Lister points to when pressed on what qualifies her to to run for mayor:

“I know how to run an organisation and I know how to be a leader. I know how to give people a clear vision. But I also have the experience of knowing what it is like to run a business and I understand what the challenges are.”

Manifesto pledges

But the role does come with an element of politics.

Ms Cunliffe-Lister, who is also North Yorkshire councillor for Mashams and Fountains division, launched her manifesto at the start of April.

Her pledges included a campaign for better services on the Harrogate to York line, a single ticket integrated bus services and converting empty premises above shops into flats.

She also pledged support for a new rail station at Flaxby Parkway, which has its roots in the long running debate over whether it should have hosted a new 3,000-home settlement in the Harrogate district.

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When asked if she had any specific priorities for Harrogate, she pointed to the town’s convention centre which she said has had a “shadow of doubt” hanging over it.

North Yorkshire Council revealed in March it had abandoned plans for a £57 million refurbishment of the ageing events and exhibitions venue, citing complexities and cost.

Ms Cunliffe-Lister said the centre was still viable and there were “easy wins” which could help it to be operated successfully:

“I would like to see the Harrogate Convention Centre up and running successfully without this shadow of doubt hanging over it any longer. 

“There are some really easy wins there. It’s just not been run commercially and it could easily do so. I would like to enable that to happen for it to be able to function properly. I think it is viable as a site.”

Aside from specific pledges, Ms Cunliffe-Lister also ruled out levying a mayoral precept on council tax and said she would consider appointing a deputy to oversee the police and fire service functions.

When asked whether she was confident going into election day, she said she felt she was the candidate with the strongest skillset:

“If you consider the skills of the person, and I do strongly believe that you need to elect a mayor based on that point alone, in my view I’ve got the best set of skills to do that. 

“I think in mayoral elections, people do not necessarily vote according to the party that they normally support. I think it’s down to the personality of the candidate.”

The York and North Yorkshire mayor will be chosen by residents of the region in an election on Thursday, May 2, 2024.

The deadline to register to vote is 11:59pm, Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

The candidates are:

  • Keith Tordoff, independent
  • Felicity Cunliffe-Lister, Liberal Democrats
  • Keane Duncan, Conservative Party
  • David Skaith, Labour Party
  • Kevin Foster, Green Party
  • Paul Haslam, independent