Districts to go as Britain's biggest county North Yorkshire is set to become one huge unitary authority July 22, 2021

The Government has changed and rechanged administrative boundaries in Yorkshire more in the last 50 years than in any previous period in Yorkshire history. And so the story continues as the Housing, Communities and Local Government Minister Robert Jenrick (as at July 2021) announced that the large district council authorities of North Yorkshire — created in 1974 — would disappear. The district councils and county authority will be replaced with a single-tier authority covering all the area currently served by the North Yorkshire County Council.

While the Government talks of "strengthening local leadership", "transforming the way services are delivered" and "offering better value for money", it does mean that a single authority pot of money is being stretched further in North Yorkshire than anywhere else in the country.

North Yorkshire is the largest county in England, covering 3,109 square miles, and including around 500 towns and villages and one small city. It stretches across around 92 miles west to east and around 67 miles from its northernmost tip to its southernmost point. To drive from Skipton in the West to Scarborough in the east takes, at best, around 2 hours and 15 minutes. The area includes two National Parks, three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Heritage Coast.

Harrogate Borough Council is currently responsible for Valley GardensScarborough Borough Council is currently responsible for Peasholm ParkIn a situation where leaving things as they are never appears among current Government thinking, the planned change is possibly the least controversial and least disruptive of two controversial proposals put forward. The unitary authority is the same area as the existing North Yorkshire County Council, which already has responsibility for roads, education and libraries, and the City of York is retained as a separate unitary authority.

The move will mean services such as parks, museums, leisure facilities, bins and recycling, car parks, housing and property, planning, licensing and council tax collection going from local district to county level and, for example, a park in Harrogate would be competing for budget and maintenance with a park in Scarborough.

The rejected proposal would have combined North Yorkshire districts of  Craven,  Richmondshire,  Hambleton and  Harrogate into one unitary authority while another would have been formed from the North Yorkshire districts of  Scarborough,  Ryedale and  Selby while also swallowing up the unitary authority of  York, a move which was particularly strongly contested in Yorkshire's historic capital which has had self-governance as a city in one form or another since ancient times.

However, the Government's choice for North Yorkshire contrasts greatly with its decision-making for Cumbria, which is only around three-quarters the area of North Yorkshire, but will be divided into two unitary authorities. The  South Lakeland district, which took in areas of historic Yorkshire around Sedbergh in 1974, will be part of an single authority covering eastern Cumbria also including parts of historic Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland. South Lakeland will merge with Eden and Barrow-in-Furness districts. Another Cumbria unitary authority will be formed from the three other districts and the Cumbria county authority will be wiped out.

Parliamentary approval still has to be sought following the ministerial announcement (as at July 2021), but the Government timetable is for elections for the new authorities next May.

While unitary authorities are often described as single-tier government, North Yorkshire continues to also have its third-tier profusion of small-area civil parish councils in most areas. These also include town councils in most towns and Ripon City Council.

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