The people of Yarm today have the chance to vote on whether the town should abandon Teesside for Yorkshire. Chris Webber hears the arguments for and against

COUNCIL tax rates, plans to build hundreds of new homes, the introduction pay and display parking, and even the replacement of some High Street cobbles has all led to discontent in the well-to-do town of Yarm.

So upset were 18 people from the population of under 9,000 that they took advantage of a legal nicety at Yarm Town Council to force a £4,000 ballot on the town leaving Stockton Borough Council.

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The vote on whether to leave Stockton and join neighbouring Hambleton District and North Yorkshire County Councils will be held today (Tuesday, May 27) between 4pm and 9pm - but will not be legally binding.

The idea is spreading, with the parish council of Thornaby, which also lies on the southern, Yorkshire side of the Tees, to agree to set up a steering group to look at the issue with the possibility of leaving Stockton council.

The Northern Echo:
FAVOURING A RETURN: Paul Smith, chairman of Yarm 4 Yorkshire

At nearby Nunthorpe, currently part of Middlesbrough Borough Council, an informal poll was actually held last year. The voters said ‘yes’ to the move although only 19 per cent of those eligible to vote actually did so.

MP for Yarm, Conservative James Wharton, has taken part in the debate, sending a letter seen by The Northern Echo urging supporters to take part and saying he was “frustrated” at what Stockton council has done.

His Labour parliamentary opponent, Louise Baldock, who grew up in Yarm, said she understands the emotional appeal of the old county, but said that in the end quality of services were more important.

Paul Smith, chairman of the Yarm 4 Yorkshire and former Conservative councillor for the town, said so many people in the, sometimes, better-heeled areas south of the Tees were wanted to join entirely Yorkshire councils.

“It’s our heritage, he said, “our history, it’s where we belong: in Yorkshire.

“Being in Hambleton council would give our people a greater chance to be heard. We’d be part of a council that has much more experience of managing market towns. Stockton says services are not as good and talk about the bin collection. Well, in fact there is a bin collection in Hambleton, it’s just that one week in two it’s for recycling, which will actually help the environment.”

Bob Cook, Labour leader of Stockton council, pointed out that the distance from Yarm to Stockton town centre was five miles, compared to a distance of 16 miles between Yarm and Northallerton, where Hambleton council is based.

“Local government is better delivered locally,” he said. “We deliver excellent services and our polls show a high level of satisfaction, 60-odd per cent.”

Coun Cook acknowledged there was upset at the introduction of pay and display parking on Yarm High Street, but said that in fact it was cheaper (first hour free, £1 for two hours after that) than Northallerton High Street (first half-hour free, 80p every hour after that), where charges are being introduced next month.

He also acknowledged that there was controversy of the replacement of historic cobbles by Yarm Town Hall but said the new paving had actually been well-received. Any other council would have to deal with the same planning rules for housing developments as Stockton, he added.

*Polling stations are at Levendale Primary School, Challoner House, Yarm Primary School, Yarm Library, Layfield Primary School. No polling cards have been issued and no postal votes taken.