Ripon councillors say the city will flourish once Harrogate council is abolished
Ripon has never sat comfortably within the Harrogate district.
An ill feeling has lingered in the cathedral city since the last time there was a local government reorganisation in 1974 when several smaller councils were brought together to create Harrogate Borough Council.
Whether it’s fair or not, there has been a perception in the city that the council has always looked at Harrogate as the crown jewel to Ripon’s detriment.
This will all change from April 1, when Ripon will fall under the control of a new unitary authority, North Yorkshire Council, with councillors optimistic it can reap the rewards.
Andrew Williams is the leader of Ripon City Council and an independent councillor on North Yorkshire County Council for Ripon Minster & Moorside.
The 53-year-old has lived in Ripon all his life and said he first became conscious of the sentiment towards Harrogate Borough Council as a teenager.
He claims “Harrogate council has been dominated by Harrogate” and that Ripon has “suffered badly” under the current system.
“What the new council arrangement will do is ensure there will be no unfair advantage to anybody.
“Across North Yorkshire, there are a lot of places like Ripon — Malton, Thirsk, Easingwold, Skipton and Richmond — that have a similar sized population to Ripon with not dissimilar issues.
“The focus on resolving those will be given a much higher priority.”
A central pledge in the case for reorganisation, called “double devolution”, was that town and parish councils could be handed more powers if they can make a successful business case.
Cllr Williams believes it will provide a golden opportunity for Ripon City Council to take control of assets that Harrogate Borough Council assumed when it was formed almost 50 years ago, such as the city’s neoclassical Town Hall.
“We’re hopeful of being selected as a pilot area for double devolution. We believe the new arrangements will provide a better opportunity for Ripon to have a greater control over its destiny.”
Taking back control
Cllr Barbara Brodigan is the Liberal Democrat councillor for Ripon Ure Bank & Spa and was elected in May 2022.
The former teacher has lived in Ripon for five years but before than lived in Knaresborough for 30 years. She’s excited about the potential benefits of double devolution.
Cllr Brodigan said:
“Ripon has long felt neglected but Ripon City Council could now have more control over our assets. I’m in favour of that. Ripon should be making decisions about Ripon.”
Harrogate Borough Council would point to its multi-million-pound investment into the state-of-the-art Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre as an example of its commitment to the residents of Ripon.
But Cllr Brodigan described the project as an “ongoing farce” due to the location the council decided to build it and spiralling costs.
Other HBC projects, such as work on a masterplan for the regeneration of the city centre have been put on hold, which Cllr Brodigan said is holding Ripon back.
“People are waiting for the Ripon Renewal masterplan to be implemented so nothing can move forward. It’s sitting on a shelf in Harrogate. That would make a huge difference to city centre.
“When you come to Ripon you can’t see anything because of all the cars. It’s not attractive at all.
“Tourism is our major income stream yet we have a car park in the centre.”
At a Harrogate Borough Council meeting in 2021, Conservative deputy leader, Graham Swift, pithily described the grievances of Ripon Independent councillor Pauline McHardy as like listening to the Scottish National Party.
So whether Ripon simply has a chip on its shoulder, as Cllr Swift suggested, or residents and councillors have justifiable frustrations at the relationship with Harrogate Borough Council — Ripon is one corner of North Yorkshire where there is excitement about the opportunities that local government reorganisation could bring.