North Yorkshire’s leaders are keeping their cards close to their chests in the face of calls for a referendum on the creation of a new Harrogate town council.
With local government reorganisation fast approaching, a consultation is currently underway on whether Harrogate should keep control of some key services and buildings by becoming a parished area.
But borough councillors were last night unanimous in their calls that the consultation does not go far enough and that a public vote is needed.
Councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, told a meeting that the process of creating a town council would be a “sham” unless a ballot was held before residents are asked to pay an extra tax to fund it.
He put forward a motion which was supported by all political parties and called on North Yorkshire County Council to give “democratic legitimacy” to the town council plans by holding a vote.
However, when later asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the county council refused to say whether a referendum would go ahead.
Councillor Carl Les, leader of the county council, said in a statement:
“We will consider Harrogate Borough Council’s motion when and if it arrives, but we are in a period of consultation already about whether residents in that area want to continue with a governance review or not.”
Currently, Harrogate and Scarborough are the only major towns in North Yorkshire not to be parished and there have been growing calls for new town councils to be created.
Those calls were first ignited when the government announced that North Yorkshire’s existing county and district councils would be scrapped from 1 April next year when a new unitary authority will take control of the whole county.
A central pledge in the major shake-up was what leaders described as a “double devolution” of powers, with plans for all town and parish councils to be given the chance to take on greater responsibilities.
This could include a Harrogate town council running services such as parks, tourism and events.
However, it remains unclear on exactly what responsibilities would be filtered down and how much residents would have to pay to fund them.
In Knaresborough and Ripon, residents currently pay their respective town and city councils £25.27 and £70.77 per year.
At last night’s meeting, councillor Cooper said it was crucial that Harrogate residents knew how much they would pay and for which services before a town council is created.
“Asking the public if they want a new town council without informing them what it might do and how much extra council tax they would have to pay is not a meaningful conversation.
“And if as everyone tells me that the people of Harrogate are clamouring for a town council, then what do we have to fear?”
Councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, also said:
“I have absolutely no problem with a referendum – that is good liberal democracy.
“We can ask North Yorkshire to hold one, but I am slightly worried that they will reject it and continue with the process they have started.”
To have your say on the current consultation go to www.northyorks.gov.uk/community-governance-reviews