Our County Councillors and the Harrogate Area Committee, what’s going wrong ?

There needs to be a conversation around the Harrogate area councillors, and their Area Committee meeting, specifically what is it doing for the people of the Harrogate area.

The Harrogate Area Committee took place on 14 September 2023, and they met in-person at the Harrogate Civic Centre.

The first thing to note with the Area Committee wis that there wasn’t any agenda items where the committee had the final say on a decision. That means that any discussion that followed with a vote, only really represented the consensus view of the group, and would be taken into consideration by a higher group, such as the Council Executive.

There is plenty of show-boating of agenda items, before making a largely pointless vote that North Yorkshire Council will ignore. That is instead of debating and distilling issues down, into clear actions, the result of the committee is often just a mishmash, without clear direction.

In a previous committee, we could see this approach during the debate around the Harrogate Gateway Project, where they insisted they had more meaningful involvement in the scheme development. But really the committee has had 18-months to engage meaningfully with the public, and with North Yorkshire Council. At that meeting the LibDems whipped-out a pre-prepared proposal, demonstrating that the LibDems are working outside of this meeting, rather than using the meeting for meaningful debate.

We need the districts councillors to have a seat around the table in discussions, for them to develop relationships in the best interest of the people that they represent – that doesn’t seem to be happening.

The definition of the meeting is defined on the North Yorkshire Council website:

Purpose of the Area Committee:

To improve the quality of life for people in their area by acting as a ‘critical friend’ to policy makers and decision makers, enabling the voice and concerns of the public to be heard and driving improvements in public services.

But if we come back to the most recent Area Committee, and look at the first few agenda items.

The first part of the meeting is given to public questions. Malcolm Margolis/ Cycling Action Group spoke about the Harrogate Gateway Project. An important point was that Harrogate would be judged on how it handled projects like this, and would be looked at badly when it came to future spend.

Malcolm was given the defined 3-minute time slot, and following it didn’t receive any questions from the forum of councillors. A council officer said it was with the Council Executive on the 19 September 2023. For such an important project to the town, it was as if the councillors had washed their hands of it, but important points were made.

EV Charging Points in Knaresborough

Next up was a petition from a business owner in Knaresborough, around the installation of charging points in what would be considered prime parking spaces on Gracious Street.

The petition had 9-points to it, including to urgently introduce a park and ride scheme for Knaresborough. However the main point of the petition was that the location of the EV points were detrimental to businesses in Knaresborough.

After some debate, a further proposal was then tabled by the Matt Walker/ Libdems, that included support for all points of the petition, and added further points such as full review of the charging point strategy. That was voted for with, 6 voting for it, 4 voting against.

Many of the points in the proposal, as pointed out by Cllr Harrison, were simply unachievable – Cllr Harrison was ignored.

It very much came over as a political chest-beating from the Libdems against Cllr Harrison, a Conservative Councillor.

The committee demonstrated a divide with those from Libdem showboating, wanting to add more to the motion, and the Conservatives taking a more considered approach of seeking first to understand more, and to more have a strategy of working with the council officers than seeking big interventions. They did support the base reason for the petition, and supported reviewing what had gone on.

The council officers had already responded to the petition, but little of that was reflected upon at this meeting.

Instead of the LibDem councillors at the meeting trying to add even more to the petition, they needed to distil-down what was being asked for, and what was the best action.  Their approach was not to engage with council officers, but to send them away with extensive work to do, but they have no power to ask them to do that work (and the council officers know that).

So if you then reflect upon what the petition had fundamentally asked for, and if there will be meaningful action to what was raised in the petition ?  – the answer is probably not, so it is likely that they have failed the people that signed the petition.

20mph zones

Although Malcolm Margolis was afforded the 3-minutes slot for presentation, that rule apparently didn’t apply in this section, with each presenter being allowed as long as they wished to talk for.

North Yorkshire Council have said that they will run trials in many areas for 20mph zones – that should be looked at as a sensible, and measured approach.

It was strange that this had returned to Area Committee, as it had been discussed before, and there was no significant change. It is also not clear as to what problem needs to be solved by this change.

However the chair, Pat Marsh, seemed to want to provide plenty of time for absolutely anything in this area. Local campaigners spoke at length around support for 20mph zones, afforded time to read every piece of paper they could find to read. If the campaigners say they want changes, then there needs to be a demonstratable safety issue. But we should look towards Highways at County Council for a solution, and to be the experts in the area. Just because a group of people ask for something, it doesn’t mean it should be done, there needs to be proper process.

Some councillors piled-in that they wanted 20mph in their areas, ignoring the strategy of Council around what would be considered a large trial in a number of areas.

But the elephant in the room was around enforcement. The meeting worked to the assumption that North Yorkshire Police would enforcement, and all indications are that they won’t. The guidance from the Police Chiefs Council is that they should enforce, but they have currently said that they won’t. Research has shown that 20mph zones don’t change behaviour, cause more pollution, and at peak times speeds are regulated by volume of traffic – but where was the debate on that ?

Cllr Schofield questioned if it meant cameras would be used to control speed, and Highways said that was not in their plan.

The parting words from Cllr Pat Marsh was and now we just need the police to enforce the speed limit. There was no action attached to that statement.

The campaigners should be applauded for wanting greater safety, but really the Area Committee should have asked for a piece of work from Highways to determine if there is a problem, and to come back to the committee with solutions, keeping the campaigners involved.

But again, after listening to the discussion, you come away thinking what was the point of it, and what did it achieve ? Highways were present at the meeting, and stated that they had plan, so this wasn’t like to change that.

What should we conclude from the actions of the Councillors and the Area Committee?

The power balance within the Area Committee has now shifted from the majority Conservative to a majority LibDem, along with a LibDem chair of the meeting.  That does seem to have created a stronger divide in the group than before, and an apparent need for the LibDems to demonstrate more that they have the authority.

Perhaps the actions from the Councillors are perceived by themselves as in the best interest of the district, but the reality is that many ultimately fall-short.

Harrogate Informer