North Yorkshire Council reaffirms ‘most local council’ ambition

Council leader Carl Les.

A local authority covering the largest area in the country has reaffirmed its ambition to become “England’s most local council” ahead of taking the first steps to shape developments in North Yorkshire into the 2040s.

North Yorkshire Council’s executive is expected to adopt a revised Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) on Tuesday, to make it the basis for consultation and community engagement in the preparation of the North Yorkshire Local Plan and the consideration of planning applications.

In recent years one of the most common complaints levelled at councils in the area has been that they fail to attach the right amount of weight to communities’ wishes when considering planning matters.

A report to a meeting of the executive states the revised SCI sets out when and how the community, organisations and other interested parties can have their say on policies to determine future planning applications and where housing and industry should be located for the next 15 to 20 years.

Signalling the council’s intention ahead of unitarisation last year to work more closely with communities, the new-look document refers to the county’s numerous parish meetings, alongside parish and town councils.

It also refers to Area Action Plans and Local Development Orders and makes clear that parish councils have a right to speak at committees.

Reflecting Neighbourhood Priorities Statements brought in with Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act which came into effect in November, the document also clarifies that the consultation period on planning applications may be longer than 21 days due to public holidays or other circumstances.

Following a consultation on the SCI, officers have underlined the introduction of social media and software for community consultations it will continue with traditional methods, such as public exhibitions and community meetings.

An officers’ report to the executive states the authority had rejected a call to hold face to face meetings with all parish councils, saying it was “not practical” as there were more than 600 town and parish councils and parish meetings in the county.

Ahead of the meeting, the council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les said while the authority already had a local liaison system in place with its 90 elected members, it would consider moves to strengthen chances for communities to express views.

He said the Parish Charter, which defines how parishes and North Yorkshire Council will work together, which was adopted last year, was evidence of efforts to engage with communities.

Coun Les said: “We are the largest by geography, and the third largest by population, of unitary councils, but we don’t see size as a barrier. We see size as a challenge to overcome to be England’s most local large authority.

“We need dialogue with parishes. When they say we haven’t listened to them on a planning matter it’s usually because they don’t feel their objections have been listened to. But if those objections are made on non-valid planning matters then it’s impossible to take them into account.”