By the time the four clangs from the bell on Yarm Town Hall rattled out over the cobbled High Street this afternoon signalling the start of the referendum a queue to vote had already formed at the local library.
“I’m a Yorkshire girl – why shouldn’t I be in Yorkshire?” said Gwen Hawes, 75. “I don’t know whether we would be financially better off – but I do know that we are a cash cow for Stockton Borough Council,” she added.
“We have seen the mess they have made in Stockton and we don’t want them doing it here. It’s a shambles,” said Dennis Castelow, 60. “I have seen this town go down the dicker and I blame it on the council,” agreed Edgar Hough, 78.
If the views of the early voters seeking to return Yarm to the warm embrace of a Yorkshire local authority were anything to go by, the town’s days under the control of neighbouring Stockton could be numbered.
Opinion polls have suggested a 70 per cent majority wishing to sever its ties with its neighbour on the north bank of the Tees and hoping to join the White Rose county’s Hambleton District Council – righting a geopolitical wrong first inflicted with the abolition of the North Riding County Council in 1972 and compounded in the 1990s when the old Georgian market town was grafted on to Stockton-On-Tees.
But in recent months local determination to restore Yorkshire’s ancient northern borders have seen local sentiment grow – fuelled by anger over plans to build up to 2,000 new homes there as well as concerns over the replacement of the town’s historic cobbles and the introduction of new parking charges.
The creation 18 months ago of the pressure group "Yarm for Yorkshire" culminated yesterday in a referendum costing £4,000, which although non-binding, could lead to full-blown secession with central Government approval.
The campaign has been led by a former Tory councillor Paul Smith, 32, who lost his council seat three years ago but says that recent development plans have “lit the fire in my belly”. He said: “Our history and heritage is in North Yorkshire and that is who we want to be managed by.”
Martin Kenefeck, 63, chairman of the Yarm Residents Association and a newly elected town councillor who raised the motion paving the way for the referendum said: “Over the last two or three years Stockton Borough Council Has just run all over Yarm affecting all sorts of things.
“They seem to be an autonomous body and there is a strong feeling in the town that they are not doing what is good for Yarm.”
Officially the various councils have refused to be drawn on the matter of who should administer Yarm although the chairman of the town council has described the vote as a “waste of money”.
The leader of Labour-run Stockton council, Bob Cook said the authority enjoyed high satisfaction ratings and that unpopular decisions would have to be made by whoever was in charge.
Louise Baldock, the Labour Parliamentary candidate in the key marginal constituency and a former Yarm resident, said she did not oppose the referendum but wondered how many of those voting were fully conversant with the key issues.
“It is politically motivated by previous Conservative members who would like to be in a Conservative authority rather than a Labour one but I don’t think the public are aware of that.
“People may be voting on what they think is a ceremonial position rather than the transfer of services from one authority to another,” she added.
Meanwhile, Chris Abbott, chairman of the Yorkshire Ridings Society, has spoken out against the vote. “Yarm is already in Yorkshire legally and geographically. There is no question about it, no referendum is required,” he said.