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Devolution Deal for York & North Yorkshire

Walmgate Bar, York
Walmgate Bar, York

York & North Yorkshire are set for a devolution deal and an elected Mayor, after a policy paper was signed by Secretary of State Greg Clark, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council Carl Les, and Leader of City of York Council Keith Aspden.

The policy paper says the parties are ‘minded to agree’ to the creation of a Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA), which will have new powers and funding.

Governance

One of the key features of the new arrangement will be a directly-elected Mayor for the combined authority, with the first election taking place in May 2024.

York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership is to be integrated into the MCA. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are little-known organisations that distribute quite large sums of public money for infrastructure projects, so it is probably a good thing if there is democratic control over the local LEP.

The policy paper says integrating the LEP into the democratic institutions will ‘ensure a strong business voice at the heart of local decision making’.

Finances

The new MCA will get £18 million per year for 30 years from central government.

It will also be the lead authority for the planning and delivery of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund in the region – a fund with a value of £14 million in 2024/5.

Transport

The Mayor and MCA will have responsibility for a region-wide Local Transport Plan, to be developed by March 2024.

The Mayor will be responsible for a local transport budget for highway maintenance.

The Mayor and MCA will set up a Key Route Network, and develop a single strategic asset management plan. It appears that this will include:

  • proposals to dual the A64 from Hopgrove roundabout, York, to Barton Hill
  • managing North Yorkshire’s £56.1 million scheme to move the A59 at Kex Gill

The document has next to nothing to say about active travel, just that York and North Yorkshire “…will work with Active Travel England on any future walking and cycling schemes…”

It is deeply unimpressive and indicative of local leaders who still prioritise increased traffic, and mere crumbs to active travel, in spite of the fact that this is incompatible with Net Zero.

Net Zero and Climate Change

‘York and North Yorkshire have the ambition to be net zero by 2034 and become England’s first carbon negative region by 2040. The scale of [their] ambition is based on their unique innovation and industrial capabilities; their nationally significant business base in low-carbon energy (such as Drax’s large-scale bioenergy with carbon capture and storage plans); and their diverse and extensive landscapes, owing to the area’s rural and coastal geography.’

para 81 of the york and north yorkshire devolution policy paper

What a load of absolute guff.

Transport

We know that a big reduction in private car use is needed to have any hope of reaching Net Zero, yet the policy paper includes two major road capacity expansion schemes and no specific active travel schemes.

Drax Power Station and Greenwashing

Client Earth’s greenwashing files list Drax.

Drax imports wood pellets from the USA and elsewhere, and burns them. In 2020, its total emissions were 19.2 million tonnes of CO2.

Since moving from coal to biomass (wood pellets) in 2012, emissions from Drax are higher than before. Drax can only claim to be zero-emission because of a carbon accounting trick: the emissions are counted where the trees are felled, not where the wood is burnt.

In the real world, emissions of CO2 still come out of the smoke stacks of Drax power station.

Future plans for Carbon Capture and Storage at Drax are highly speculative, and should not be relied on by the region as a sound basis for becoming carbon-negative.

Landscapes

While it is a nice idea to use landscapes to capture carbon, it is not happening in York & North Yorkshire. Worse, burning of heather on grouse moors is still going on: I took this photo in March 2022 from Greenhow Hill.

Fire set by grouse moor, taken from Greenhow Hill, March 2022
Fire set by grouse moor employees on behalf of the landowner, taken from Greenhow Hill, March 2022

Whilst it’s nice that the policy paper talks about Net Zero, no one involved in the policy paper is anywhere close to supporting credible actions to achieve it.

Devolution Deal for York & North Yorkshire

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