Government urged to ‘step up’ to devolution mark

Claire Douglas. Pic: City of York Council

A milestone meeting over North Yorkshire and York’s proposed devolution has heard an appeal for the Government to “step up to the mark” and sign off the proposed new combined authority for the area, with one leading councillor warning warm words from Whitehall “doesn’t butter no parsnips”.

A joint meeting of the Conservative-run North Yorkshire and Labour-run City of York councils to discuss the expected creation of a mayoral combined authority in January heard while the councils had agreed on how to split the first significant tranche of Government devolution funding, uncertainty still surrounds the transfer of powers from Westminster.

Ahead of the meeting opposition councillors in North Yorkshire had claimed the proposed division of the funds for net zero schemes would see York receive 47 per cent of £6.2m being spent on capital schemes, despite having a population of about a third the size of North Yorkshire.

A total of 23 schemes will receive a share of the funding unlocked by the region’s proposed devolution deal, subject to devolution progressing for York and North Yorkshire’s combined 800,000-plus residents.

They include street and building LED lighting schemes in York as well as innovation in energy generation, including The Electric Cow Project at Askham Bryan College in the city.

The farming scheme will fund slurry-fuelled conversion equipment for dairy farms across the region to generate electricity from cow manure.

Other projects approved aim to tackle a decline of biodiversity, such as the project at the Denton Park Estate, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, where funds will support moorland restoration.

Critics of the proposed net zero programme, which will see both councils bear the risk for until the combined authority is created, have claimed while York residents will benefit from millions of pounds of extra funding at the expense of communities across the vast rural county.

Parliamentary debates on devolution for the region are anticipated in the coming weeks, with mayoral elections scheduled for May.

However, North Yorkshire and York Local Enterprise Partnership boss James Farrar told the meeting the schemes which were being funded represented “a good spread” across the area, including ones in York and every constituency in North Yorkshire.

Countering the criticism, leaders of both councils heralded the investment as a milestone for the region, with North Yorkshire Council leader Councillor Carl Les saying it was “a very exciting time”.

City of York Council’s leader Councillor Claire Douglas told the meeting said addressing climate change was becoming increasingly important and the proposals represented the first cross-region thinking, rather than for York or for North Yorkshire as entities.

She said: “It’s really fantastic to see there’s such a wide coverage of the region.

“I think it’s also fantastic to see that this is the first significant investment that the combined authority is able to commit to.”

The meeting heard of frustration expressed over an ability to plan the creation of the combined authority as the two councils await an order to make the combined authority a legal entity to be laid before Parliament.

Deputy leader of York council, Councillor Peter Kilbane said :”I know that from our end we have done all we can to ensure this combined authority is formed, according to the timescales, and as soon as possible.

“When we make representations to Government they do give us quite a lot of warm words in terms of what’s happening, but as we say around here, that doesn’t butter no parsnips, does it and we have just committed to spending just over £7m to get things going.

“We’ve got plenty of certainty that this is all going forwards, but there’s a lot resting on it. What we need is certainty in the region, so really this is a plea to Government, if they are listening to get this order made so that we can all get on with the business that we are actually getting on with. We just need them to step up to the mark really.”