COUNCIL bosses in York are consulting over whether the city should remain a single, unified authority governed from York - or whether it should merge with Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby as part of a much larger council covering the whole eastern half of North Yorkshire.

Under the government’s devolution programme, district councils such as Ryedale are effectively being done away with.

In the local government reorganisation that will result, there are two options on the table for York and North Yorkshire:

  • split the county east/ west, with York forming part of a new eastern authority that includes Ryedale, Selby and Scarborough
  • a ‘doughnut’ approach, where York would remain an independent authority, but would be surrounded by a new North Yorkshire unitary authority. District councils would cease to exist.

York Press:

The district council's favoured east/ west model, in which York would merge with Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby

Both York and North Yorkshire County Council favour the ‘doughnut’ approach. North Yorkshire’s district councils, however, favour the east/ west split.

York has until the end of October to submit its preferred option to the Government.

It is incredibly important that local residents, businesses and organisations have their say,” council leader Keith Aspden has said.

You will have plenty of opportunity to do that.

You may already have received the latest copy of the council’s ‘Our City’ newsletter.

If not, you will receive it in the next few days.

The newsletter contains two pages on the devolution debate, plus a pull-out prepaid survey form you can fill in and return. Alternatively, you can have your say online here

What is the best option for York?

Both the city council and North Yorkshire County Council favour the option in which all of North Yorkshire apart from York forms one single, mainly rural, unitary authority, while York remains independent as an urban unitary authority at the county’s heart.

City of York Council says that:

  • York is a self-governing and historic city with unique characteristics and a distinct identity
  • With 210,000 residents, York is already an average-sized unitary authority for England - and the population is expected to increase to about 230,000 in the next few years. It does not need to be part of a larger authority to be effective
  • Council tax would go up if York were to form part of a merged, mainly rural authority covering the east of North Yorkshire. York’s council tax at the moment is the seventh lowest of any unitary authority in England, and significantly lower than neighbouring councils. ‘Any merger with more expensive neighbouring authorities would require council tax levels to be harmonised,’ the council says.
  • Changing council boundaries so York merged with Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough could cost tens of millions of pounds.
  • York has large pockets of inequality. A reorganisation now could cause real disruption to services.
  • Urban York has a very different geography and economy from the rural and coastal districts. The city contributes a third (£6.35billion) of GVA (gross value added, a measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area) across York and North Yorkshire. Support for local businesses could be diluted if the council was also supporting rural and coastal economies.

North Yorkshire County Council says that:

  • A single unitary authority for North Yorkshire, with an independent York in the centre, would ‘safeguard the current and well-established unitary council in the City of York, avoiding major disruption to services there at a critical moment in its history’.
  • The authority’s leader, Cllr Carl Les, said said this would also be the best option for the county as a whole. Getting rid of district councils would save up to £25 million every year, he said.

What do the district councils say?

District councils in North Yorkshire believe splitting the entire county on east/west lines, with York as part of an eastern council including Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough, would be a better option. A proposal along these lines has already been submitted to the Government.

District councils say their approach could save up to £56 million a year - more than double the £25 million saving promised by North Yorkshire County Council. Councillor Steve Siddons, Leader of Scarborough Borough Council, said: “The east/west model delivers stronger democracy, more effective services (and) the best possible value.”

York Press:

Scarborough: a merged York, Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby council would be more effective and would save money, district councils say

What benefits will devolution bring?

City of York Council says a devolution deal for North Yorkshire (whichever option we ultimately go for) could potentially unlock significant investment over 30 years - up to £2.4 billion, according to one council estimate.

As part of its devolution bid, the council is specifically asking the Government for:

A £64 million York Place Fund, including

  • £14 million for the York Station Frontage project
  • £10 million to deliver York Riverside Walkway
  • £28 million to deliver Phase 1 of York Castle Museum’s Castle Capital Project
  • £3 million to support York’s Cultural Strategy
  • £1 million of funding to transform secondary shopping areas

The council is asking for a further £175 million to develop an ‘innovation ecosystem’ connecting universities, industry and policy makers to help further develop the city’s technology and bio-tech sector, plus £3 million for bio-tech incubator hubs and £15 million for a bio-tech innovation accelerator.

The authority is also hoping to get a share of a £96 million Strategic Housing Investment Package to deliver new homes.

What about a directly-elected Mayor for North Yorkshire?

The ultimate decision about what form of local government is appropriate for York will be taken by Whitehall - at this stage, councils are merely submitting bids setting out their preferred option.

Whichever of the two options the Government eventually decides upon, however, as part of the devolution process there will also be a move to create a new, directly-elected Mayor for the whole of York and North Yorkshire.

That directly-elected Mayor could be in place as early as 2022 under Government plans.

He or she would have responsibility for strategic decisions and investment for the entire combined authority area - and would also take on the role of police and fire commissioner.

Local councils would continue to be mainly responsible for the services they currently provide.

If we have a directly-elected North Yorkshire Mayor, will York lose its own Lord Mayor?

No. The Lord Mayor of York is an historic and ceremonial role, and will not be affected by having a directly-elected executive Mayor for the whole York and North Yorkshire region.

York Press:

Keith Orrell as Lord Mayor of York. The role is ceremonial and would not be affected by the election of an executive mayor for the whole of York and North Yorkshire. Picture: Frank Dwyer