Forget April fools, April 1st in 2024 was an auspicious day for all lovers of Yorkshire. It was the 50th anniversary of an event that many Yorkshire men and women regret – the abolition in 1974 of the thousand-year-old three great administrative divisions of the ancient Anglo-Viking Kingdom of Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Ridings.

Many people looking at the confusion of constantly changing of boundaries – for example parts of the suburbs of  West Yorkshire towns Wetherby, Ilkley and Otley now being in North Yorkshire and administered from Northallerton in the far-off Vale of York – feel that something important  was lost from their lives when the Three Ridings councils were abolished.

West Riding County Council, for example, ran what was regarded as one of the most powerful and progressive counties of England. The County Boroughs within the three Ridings also had pride and energy, great cities like York, Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Sheffield, Doncaster and Hull, and towns like Halifax, Huddersfield, Barnsley and Rotherham were the real powerhouses of the North, contributing massively to the wealth of Britain as a whole. Many people regret, too, the loss of the old Urban and Rural District Councils which, far from being inefficient, were also closer to people and so better met local needs. You could walk into your local Town Hall or Council offices and speak to the people in charge in a way that is impossible in the 21st century. Big does not always mean better – or more efficient (for ordinary people).

Those people who claim the Yorkshire Ridings have never really left us and are an indestructible part of our history and heritage are right. Waving our wonderful Yorkshire flags and restoring North or West Riding road signs with white roses on them, is a consolidation and consolation of sorts. This is especially true for those people born or living in those parts of Yorkshire who, in April 1974, were summarily thrust into different counties or “Unitary Authorities” like Greater Manchester, Teesside, Westmorland & Furness and even Lancashire. But the truth is that over the last five decades power and wealth has been systematically drained away from all Regions of England and centred increasingly in the Southeast, Westminster and the cumbersome and insensitive bureaucracy of Whitehall. Even so called “levelling up” grants, for essential services or projects, have to be applied for through a complex and expensive process of competition, and are only awarded on the whim of civil servants or their political masters – a begging-bowl process that devalues local democracy.

It was for these and other reasons that a group of people, including some members of The Yorkshire Society, met at noon on April 1st 2024 at a special location in the centre of York, to read out a Declaration asking that every Yorkshire man and woman, whether born or adopted and living in this wonderful part of England, do all they can to persuade all would-be Parliamentary candidates in the coming General Election to support meaningful Devolution for the Regions of England, especially Yorkshire. This must also mean more support for our cash starved local authorities and four competing Metro Mayors, all with limited powers and budgets.

The Declaration suggests that the near 5.5 million population of Yorkshire & Humber Region – the nearest equivalent we have to our historic Yorkshire – deserve better and to have what Greater London, by far England’s most prosperous Region, already enjoy:  its own democratically elected Assembly. What is good enough for London is good enough for Yorkshire.

The Declaration was supported by 100 citizens of Yorkshire, none of them politicians but ordinary Yorkshire people including writers, historians, philosophers, poets, musicians, engineers and doctors. It was read out loud in public at the Eye of York, the small oak tree on a small public green in front of York Castle, the exact point where, according to local tradition and legend, the three great Ridings of Yorkshire theoretically met – York, England’s second city for a thousand years, was never actually within a Yorkshire Riding itself.  See the full Declaration document HERE.

WHAT’S OUR POSITION?

The Yorkshire Society is a truly nonpolitical organisation that exists to support all that is good and worthwhile about Yorkshire. It does not take any position on matters of politics or governance leaving members to express their own as they wish. However, it does provide a platform on which people can express their different views and opinions about the future of Yorkshire, and a place where people can meet to share opinions, ideas and hopes for the future of Yorkshire.

Not everyone will support the Declaration as a means of suggesting that Yorkshire – whose population is larger than Wales and Northern Ireland combined and equal to that of Scotland – should, like these nations, have its own devolved Parliament or, like London, a Regional Assembly, but in this election year The Yorkshire Society believes this is something that should, in a friendly and respectful manner, be fully discussed and debated.

To this end, on the July 31st, 2024 (the eve of Yorkshire Day) in York, The Yorkshire Society will be offering anyone with an interest in the future governance of Yorkshire a chance to hear the thoughts of a panel of distinguished Yorkshire men and women on the range of devolution options available at a Forum on the future governance of Yorkshire event – the next stage of our ongoing Big Yorkshire Conversation project.

We hope that the options, ideas, hopes and aspirations that will be voiced at the Forum, like the Yorkshire Declaration itself, will be widely shared and find their way onto the agenda of politicians of all parties in the coming General Election. Details of the event will be published on the Society’s website in due course but for information or enquiries in the meantime, please write to contact@theyorkshiresociety.org

See the full Declaration document HERE.

Pin It on Pinterest