RYEDALE District Council (RDC) could be abolished within two years under radical plans to reform local government.

Council leaders from North Yorkshire were told by Minister Simon Clarke MP that reorganisation is a key priority.

Ending the county’s two-tier system of local government is “integrally linked”, Mr Clarke told the seven leaders at a virtual meeting last week, to devolution of powers from Westminster.

It would mean council services in Ryedale delivered by one tier of government, rather than the current split between RDC and North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC).

The geography and size of any new authority covering Ryedale is not yet decided, but the government has said 400,000 people is “optimal” for delivering services efficiently.

Cllr Keane Duncan, leader of RDC, said: “It’s a shock to be told, effectively, that your council could be gone within months.

“The message from government is clear, they want devolution, they want reorganisation, and they want it fast.

“And while I feel government is willing to work constructively with us, they are the ultimate decision maker in this situation and they do not need consent from us local authorities.

“So we can’t bury our heads in the sand. Every authority needs to be part of the discussions, every council leader needs to stand up for the best deal for their part of North Yorkshire.

“I am open-minded about how we might look and how we might work more cost-effectively and more-efficiently at the end of this.

“Unitary is, in principle, a good thing. But the one thing I stand in total and absolute opposition to is a super-council of 600,000-800,000 residents.”

The government has asked local authorities to submit proposals on the shape and size of future arrangements by September. The first election to new authorities could be as soon as May 2022.

Cllr Duncan added: “I am immensely proud of Ryedale District Council, particularly our achievements during the coronavirus emergency.

“I am proud too of every member of staff who has gone above and beyond in this crisis. It will be a very sad day if and when we do turn out the lights for good. Until then, it is business as usual for local people.”

However, Liberal Democrat councillors said that while they welcomed the offer of economic support for the county, the haste of the rush towards devolution came with a “serious health warning”.

Cllr Di Keal said: “It could sound the death knell for Ryedale both as a council and the district itself with severe limits on local representation.

“The demand from central government will lead to Ryedale, as one of seven councils across North Yorkshire being represented by one or two councillors, whose voices will likely be lost in a much bigger authority.”

Cllr Steve Mason added: “It feels very much like the government is trying to slip devolution for North Yorkshire through the back door, whilst local authorities are still working on their Covid-19 response and recovery.

“Ryedale council hasn’t even met during the past four months and aren’t due a meeting until mid-September.

“How can we fully debate what is a huge decision for Ryedale and respond, with the other districts to the government by their September deadline?

“This is about protecting Ryedale itself from being lost in an expensive reorganisation that will have few benefits to the district if we will lose those local representatives who fight for local people.”