THE plug has finally been pulled on a regular series of council-led public meetings designed to help the authority engage with local communities.

Investigations into the best way to consult with local people across the Hambleton district - including parish councils – will now get underway in the New Year.

Councillors have agreed to call to a halt their quarterly area forums after hearing they were often poorly attended and business clashed with another set of regular meetings – known as area partnerships.

Operated by the Hambleton Strategic Forum across the district – apart from in Thirsk – the partnerships often involve the same people and the same topics for debate.

The area forums - for Stokesley, Thirsk, Bedale, Easingwold and Northallerton – were each meant to be held four times a year and were designed for residents to meet councillors and ask questions they had tabled at least ten days in advance.

However they failed to grab the public’s attention – and several were cancelled in the last year alone because of lack of interest.

Hambleton Cabinet members said the crossover was no longer sensible – although they did agree that if “ad hoc” meetings were needed the area forum system would be used.

And while a scrutiny review concluded that the area partnerships were a success it added that they needed more work to raise local awareness.

“Effective community engagement is vital for the work of the district council,” said council leader Neville Huxtable.

“But the area forums have no powers – they are not decision making bodies nor do they have a budget.

“They have enabled a low level of interaction between the council and local people but we believe there may be better ways and we will be exploring those in the future.”

He added: “The area partnerships with their informal approach generate more interest and enthusiasm – and that could be the way forward for the authority.”

All future planned meetings of the area forums have now been cancelled – including those for January.