With debate continuing over the potential creation of one or more unitary authorities across North Yorkshire, to replace the current two-tier system of North Yorkshire County Council and several district councils including Harrogate, the Chamber believes now is not the time to be making significant investments in office accommodation.
At its July meeting, around 90 members of Harrogate Chamber debated the issue, with contributions from local business people and councillors. While they were initially divided about whether the council should invest in the proposed new offices at Knapping Mount, once the issue of a potential change to unitary status was raised, there was a consensus: all of those who voted believed the decision should be delayed.
Former Chamber President Sandra Doherty, who has spent some time looking at the proposals, said: There is no doubt that the current offices at Crescent Gardens are in very poor condition and it is not pleasant for the council staff to have to work there.
However, in the current situation, we do not believe Harrogate Council should be considering spending such a significant sum on new offices. Transferring to unitary status is not just a rumour; it is a very realistic possibility which is likely to happen within the next seven years.
If it goes ahead, a new unitary authority could be based in Harrogate, in which case the new council could need much more space than is currently being proposed. On the other hand, if the new unitary authority is based elsewhere, there will be very little need for offices in Harrogate, so the current plans would be a complete waste of money – and we must not forget that this is our money, as tax payers in Harrogate.
Whatever happens, there will be no progress until after the General Election next May, so trying to force a decision before then seems reckless and illogical.
As part of the discussions at Monday’s meeting, the Chamber heard that North Yorkshire could be split into as many as three unitary authorities: one for York and Selby, one for Scarborough and the Moors, and one for Harrogate and the Dales. Local authorities have been strongly encouraged to work together more effectively in recent years and it is believed there will be a move towards creating unitary authorities around the country, rather than two-tier systems, following next year’s General Election.
During the debate, many Chamber members supported the idea of making better use of existing space, including offices in Harrogate International Centre which are currently under-utilised, as an interim measure until the future status of the local authority is more certain.
Chamber President Stuart Pearson said: It was very clear at Monday’s meeting that our members feel strongly about this issue – and that they do not feel they have been given enough information to make an informed decision as part of the current consultation.
As business owners and leaders, we would never make such an important decision at a time of uncertainty like this. We are calling on Harrogate Council to act responsibly and wait until the future is clear before investing millions of pounds in this project.