Richmond baroness hits back over ‘pulling rank’ criticism over road repairs

Baroness Harris

A baroness has hit back after being accused of using her life peerage to pull rank on a local authority to get a road near her home repaired.

Baroness Angela Harris said both her Richmond town councillor husband, John, and herself had been the subject of “a personal attack” by North Yorkshire County Council’s opposition leader, Councillor Stuart Parsons, after he lodged a formal complaint with the authority.

Coun Parsons had questioned residents’ access to officers after the former House of Lords deputy speaker was granted a meeting with several of the council’s most senior officials about about potholes on the Darlington Road section of the A6108, in Richmond after emailing the council’s leader Councillor Carl Les.

Coun Parsons said the meeting saw the officers able to give little fresh information, particularly as he had previously given updates on the road repairs at meetings of the town council, of which the baroness’s husband is a member.

After receiving the complaint the council’s chief executive Richard Flinton said the issues concerning Baroness Harris “could have been dealt with differently”, but added the meeting with senior officers had not been unreasonable as the baroness was part of the country’s legislature and could promote the interests of North Yorkshire.

Cllr Parsons said: “She may be in the national legislature, but there was nothing national about her concerns and her position would not enable her to do anything nationally about the road surface of Darlington Road.

“North Yorkshire County Council by allowing this is confirming that there are differing access levels for different residents.”

In a letter to the Darlington and Stockton Times, Baroness Harris, a member of the Procedures and Privileges Committee in the House of Lords, said she would be happy to publish emails relating to the meeting to prove the member for Richmond had made “ludicrous insinuations” which were “utterly false”.

She said she believed the Darlington Road, one of the major tourist routes into Richmond and the Yorkshire Dales had serious structural defects.

She wrote: “Other councillors will attest that he does not mention the state of the road so often.

“It is interesting, therefore, to note that my first request to the county council to invite the leader to see for himself the state of the road resulted in an immediate filling in of the worst of the potholes and cracks.

“Something I – and other Richmond residents – would have expected our county councillor to have requested a long time ago.

“This whole, ridiculous row has been blown out of all proportion and I am sorry that your readers have been subjected to a petty political tirade from someone of whom we should expect the highest standards of behaviour.”

Baroness Harris, who became the first woman to chair the county council in 1991, added she would “always stand up for our town and do whatever I can to help make whatever improvements to its infrastructure are necessary”.

She said: “I am immensely grateful for the way in which the county council responded to my concerns about the state of the road.

“I was, after all, the county councillor for Richmond myself some 20 years ago – so know the ropes – but I always found that treating their excellent officers professionally and with courtesy and respect usually won the day.”