YORK Outer MP Julian Sturdy says York should merge with Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby following local government reorganisation to form a new super-authority covering the entire eastern half of North Yorkshire.

It flies in the face of City of York Council's already-stated preference for the city to remain an independent authority, with the remainder of North Yorkshire forming a separate unified council.

The devolution model Mr Sturdy supports is the one proposed by district councils, which would see North Yorkshire, including York, split into two halves, east and west.

Writing in The Press today, Mr Sturdy says: "The east/west proposal would create two unitary authorities of similar population size and comparable economic heft.

"York would join with Selby, Ryedale and Scarborough to form the eastern unitary authority, with Craven, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Hambledon forming the western authority. 

"This approach has several benefits, the main one being that it will get the balance right between creating authorities that have the scale and capacity to invest in improved services, whilst being small enough to remain accountable to local people.

"For York, the reorganisation presents an opportunity to strengthen existing links with the surrounding area and to push for mutually beneficial investment in and around the A64, which would be the main transport artery connecting up the local authority.

"Our thriving tourism industry in the city centre will complement rural and coastal tourism in the North York Moors and Scarborough, Bridlington and Whitby. Our adult social care and children’s services, already under pressure, will benefit from the additional scale and capacity that a unitary authority will bring.

"Annual efficiencies from the East/West model are expected to be £33-56 million in total, not insignificant at a time when City of York Council are trying to find £4m in budget savings."

Mr Sturdy's stance is sharply at odds with both York Central MP Rachael Maskell and City of York Council itself.

In a briefing with The Press last month, the council's leaders, Lib Dem Keith Aspden and Green Andy D'Agorne, came out strongly in favour of York remaining independent, with the remainder of North Yorkshire uniting as a single authority. That is the model also supported by the county council.

Cllr Aspden and Cllr D'Agorne argued that:

  • Council tax would go up if York were to form part of a merged, mainly rural authority because council tax in neighbouring areas is significantly higher than in York
  • Changing council boundaries could cost tens of millions of pounds.
  • a reorganisation could cause real disruption to vital services.

Responding to Mr Sturdy today, Cllr Aspden said: "The proposal...which Julian Sturdy is promoting, involves merging York into a distant and undemocratic 'mega'-council, stretching from the outskirts of Redcar and Cleveland to those of Doncaster, along the east coast. This council would be 65 miles north to south and 45 miles east to west. 

“A 'mega'-council such as this would centralise decision-making, remove local accountability and weaken local community engagement in York. To suggest...that a council covering such a huge geographical area, across wide varieties of disparate communities, would retain accountability to local people defies logic. 

“This 'mega'-council proposal fails to understand the physical and economic geography of York and ignores the wishes of our residents, over 4,000 of whom have already backed our campaign for decisions affecting York to be made in York, by people that understand our city and its communities."

Cllr D'Agorne added that if York were to merge with the district councils there would be 'increased cost pressures' on social care and children's services. And he estimated that council tax could go up by as much as £100 a year with 'no benefit in services'.

"City of York has over 800 years proud history as a city which its residents don’t want to see swallowed up into a ‘York and Coast’ council with perpetual ‘virtual’ council meetings and surgeries to save councillors from Scarborough and Selby from travelling to York for meetings," he said.

York Central MP Rachael Maskell also wants the city council to remain an independent unitary authority.

She said: "York is such a special place, we cannot afford to dilute its influence or detract from the focus needed to drive forward its economy. At such a challenging time as this, there should be no distraction from the need to respond to the current pandemic and economic crises. A mass reorganisation of local government is in no-one’s interest."

The devolution process goes hand in hand with moves to create a new, directly-elected Mayor for the whole of York and North Yorkshire. That is almost certain to happen, whichever devolution route York goes down.

The directly-elected Mayor could be in place as early as 2022 under government plans, City of York Council leader Keith Aspden said at last month's briefing.