A Conservative-run local authority embroiled in an increasingly costly row over how it splits taxpayers' money between its five market towns is facing calls to launch a levelling up programme across its district.

Councillor Bryn Griffiths said with just nine months left until it was abolished Hambleton District Council needed to start treating Northallerton, Thirsk, Bedale, Easingwold and Stokesley with parity after narrowly avoiding having a funding decision by its cabinet sent back by its own scrutiny committee.

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An extraordinary meeting of its scrutiny committee was convened after one Conservative, one Independent and one Labour councillor invoked a rarely used democratic rule to "call in" concerns over the cabinet's decision earlier this month to reject Stokesley Town Council's request for £104,000 extra to repair its cobbled area.

Councillors were told while the town council is convinced Hambleton has responsibility to repair the cobbles, the district council is adamant that the cobbles' maintenance is a shared responsibility.

The meeting heard Hambleton had approved significant amounts of extra funding for its revamp of the Northallerton high street area, partly on the grounds that building costs had risen, but it had refused to recognise the same unexpected costs facing the Stokesley scheme.

Calling for the cabinet's decision to be sent back for reconsideration, Cllr Andy Wake said: "There was very little if any debate amongst cabinet members, which I found very disturbing bearing in mind this is a very important matter to the residents of Stokesley and Stokesley Town Council."

Cllr Griffiths said insufficient weight had been given in the officer’s report to the Cabinet meeting to issues raised by the town council and that the report failed to address the district council's inappropriate repairs of the cobbles.

He said: "Hambleton has undertaken this on an ad-hoc basis over recent years, in what is the heart of the conservation area.

"Additionally, and of utmost importance in my opinion, the officer’s report before Cabinet did not address the significant safety issues associated with loose cobbles and poor repairs."

He claimed increasing numbers of people were falling and sustaining injuries due to losing their footing on loose or missing cobbles.

After members of the ruling group of councillors questioned why the concerns had not been raised during the Cabinet meeting, opposition members said they had needed time for reflection.

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The authority's chief executive Justin Ives told the meeting there was "absolutely no correlation" between the town centre schemes for Stokesley and the one for Northallerton, which had arisen out of an opportunity for government funding.

He dismissed claims Hambleton overlooked safety concerns for residents on the cobbles, saying a regime of repairs was undertaken as soon as the authority was made aware they were needed.

The meeting heard the authority had taken legal advice from specialist property barristers and was satisfied its position with regard to its responsibilities for maintaining the cobbles was correct.

A senior officer told the meeting: "This council disagrees with the town council's position with regard to where responsibility lies."

Three councillors then voted for and three councillors against a proposal to refer the decision back to Cabinet.

The move was rejected as the committee's chairman used his casting vote.


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