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Why 2022 will be a big year of change for Harrogate’s local government

The New Year will bring new challenges for key council services and major projects in the Harrogate district. But 2022 will be like no other.

The New Year will bring new challenges for key council services and major projects in the Harrogate district. But 2022 will be a year like no other. It will mark the beginning of the end for Harrogate Borough Council which will enter its final full year before it is abolished and replaced with a new North Yorkshire-wide authority. Elections to the new council will take place in May and are set to be one of the most intriguing campaigns yet as political parties fight for control over a drastically reduced number of councillor seats at what will be a crucial time for the future of local government. Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper said while he would reflect on the end of the authority’s 47-year history with sadness, now was a time for planning ahead for the transition to the new council structure. He said:

"The transfer of services to a new council is a complex process. "Thorough planning is needed to ensure a smooth transfer for residents and staff too. "It isn’t just Harrogate Borough Council combining with North Yorkshire County Council to form a new council; it is six other district councils combining into the new council too. "So that is eight different ways of doing things – collecting the litter, supporting council housing, running leisure services and so on – combining into one new council on the same day."
Councillor Cooper, who will stand down as a Conservative after 24 years of service when the new authority is created, added:
"Harrogate Borough Council will cease to exist in April 2023. I am sad about that, and sad that I will stop being a councillor at that time. "However, how I feel as a councillor isn’t important. Like the vast majority of people reading this I am a local resident so I want the new council to deliver the services upon which I, my neighbours and friends – all of us – rely. "What is important is making sure that the services the borough council runs are transferred efficiently to the new council and that they are run equally well or better than now. "I am particularly concerned that our homelessness support services continue being supported. "The poorest in society should not fall through any cracks in the process."
While Harrogate Borough Council’s time may be coming to a close, the authority has shown no signs of slowing up and has a number of major projects either underway or in the pipeline. These include the £10.9m Gateway project, the new Ripon Swimming Pool, plans for a new Knaresborough Leisure Centre and a potential £47m redevelopment of Harrogate Convention Centre which councillor Cooper said will be a key economic driver for the district’s future. The projects will be seen as a lasting legacy for the authority which is also pushing for the creation of a Harrogate Town Council to retain control of some services under local government reorganisation. This comes as there are still lingering questions over what will happen to several council-owned buildings – not least to mention Harrogate Borough Council’s new Civic Centre headquarters. Under the next stage of the councils shake-up, a structural change order will be approved by central government and act as the blueprint for reorganisation. It will drastically cut the number of councillors representing the area, with the future of the Harrogate district set to be made up of around 20 councillors compared with 57 under the current structure. Although they have yet to be announced, councillor Cooper said he was confident the Conservatives had a strong selection of candidates to stand in the May election when the party will aim to keep its tight grip on the district. He said:
"Elections are always challenging and we live in unprecedented political times.  However we have a set of excellent candidates who work hard in their local communities. "I am confident in the ability and application of our candidates and I hope that, when it comes to polling day, people will vote for those who have a track record of action for residents irrespective of any party political concerns." This sense of optimism is one that is shared by councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group, who said a loss of trust in central government and election victories elsewhere in the country showed the party is “on the up”.
She said:
“We hope our local residents will think very carefully about what their present Conservative-dominated councils have delivered for them over two decades. “As the opposition group, we will keep pushing to ensure that projects are delivered on time and within budget. “With the Gateway project we would like a more holistic approach and that this scheme is not just looked at in isolation, but fitting into a wider town centre master plan.”
Councillor Marsh added:
“A Harrogate Town Council needs to be in place quickly so Harrogate residents have the same local governance as the rest of the district. “The new town council should have the powers to take control of places such as the Valley Gardens, the Royal Pump House Museum and any other assets that Harrogate residents feel needs local decision-making on, rather than a remote North Yorkshire council. “We need to ensure our district has a strong voice on the council and that any area committees are balanced to ensure our area, with many residents, has a strong voice.”
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter Read more local stories from Your Harrogate here.

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