THE leaders of a lengthy and bitter battle to retain children's and maternity services at a hospital have admitted defeat after being told legal action against the NHS would be risky.

Richmond MP William Hague and Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said their fight to retain the round-the-clock consultant-led departments at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, had come to an end.

The council has been advised its planned judicial review in the High Court over how Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group (CCG) decided to launch a midwife-led maternity service and downgrade the paediatric department to a short stay assessment unit, could cost taxpayers up to £500,000.

A council report said: "On the balance of probabilities there is a realistic chance that the legal action would be unsuccessful."

The council, which is set to ratify the decision next week, said it meant people who have historically used the Friarage would now need to travel further to the James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough or Darlington Memorial Hospital, to receive consultant-led services.

Both hospitals have said they have the capacity to treat hundreds of extra patients from North Yorkshire.

The CCG's chief clinical officer, Vicky Pleydell, welcomed the authority's decision and said it would continue to work closely with the local community, the council and others to ensure they are fully involved in the implementation of the new service.

She added: "We would also welcome wider involvement in the debate on rural health provision."

It is expected the CCG will launch the new-look services at the Friarage in the coming months.

The authority's leader, Councillor John Blackie, who has battled to retain services at the hospital since January 2012, said he was "desperately disappointed" the campaign had failed.

He said after being told there was a significant chance the judicial review would not be effective and that it could cost taxpayers up to £500,000, he accepted a barrister's advice to abandon the legal action.

Cllr Blackie, who was among a number of people involved in high-profile rows over the scheme, said: "It is the end of the road, the last chance to prevent the decision being implemented has gone."

When the plan was unveiled it triggered an unprecedented wave of opposition from residents, which included 4,000 people led by Richmond MP William Hague marching through Northallerton and more than 10,000 people signing a petition.

North Yorkshire County Council's health scrutiny committee twice referred the plan to the Health Secretary, only to have their concerns dismissed.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hague said: "This is the end of a long battle on that particular issue and all of us who were involved have had to accept that."

He repeated his call for South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust to set out a strong and ambitious plan for the future of the Friarage.