Community networks plan receives mixed reception

County Hall, Northallerton.

A plan to “fill the void” left by the abolition of district and borough councils in North Yorkshire with unelected community partnerships acting as agents for social and economic change has received a mixed reception.

With less than five months until the county’s eight district, borough and county councils are merged into a unitary authority, councillors have voiced concerns over proposals to create Community Networks, to champion the residents and traders of up to 30 areas across the county.

A North Yorkshire County Council meeting heard the networks, which would serve about a quarter of the population of a district or borough council, would be largely based around towns and be places of collaboration between business, public sector agencies and the communities they serve.

Councillors were told it was hoped Community Networks would lead to greater collaboration, provide the support to help communities to become more self-reliant and resilient and become “the engine rooms of local action”.

The meeting heard while the networks would be independent of the council, the council’s most senior managers would be each be assigned networks to
ensure strategic connections between the economic and social needs of
local communities are made back into the douncil and with partners.

Officers underlined Community Networks were not about creating a new governance structure for the areas and it was not intended to undermine the legitimacy of the role of elected representatives on parish and town councils.

Although they emphasised that the networks would not have powers to overrule the decisions of their partner organisations, several councillors branded them “undemocratic” and raised concerns over them becoming focused on towns rather than their rural hinterlands.

Craven District Council leader Councillor Richard Foster said: “I don’t like the idea of non-democratic organisations being part of the formal structure of a democratic organisation.”

Bishop Monkton councillor Nick Brown said democratically-elected parish councils in his area were “absolutely enraged at the potential for conflict” with the networks.

He said: “I do feel there’s going to be terrible trouble ahead, I’m sorry to say, with these parishes. They are very protective of their particular areas.”

The meeting heard Community Networks had previously been set up across the county under different names by district and borough councils and some had proved effective in dealing with local matters.

However, Richmond councillor Stuart Parsons giving the networks some funding was essential as they would otherwise end up as talking shops.

He said: “You have got to have something to encourage people to actively participate and not just wander away.”

Catterick councillor Kevin Foster added: “There is a chance already for communities to get involved. All they need to do is turn up to their parish councils.”