Harrogate Borough Council is to hold a public consultation as to whether the authority should seek to amend legislation to increase the opportunity to hold more and different types of events on the Stray, an area of 200 acres (80 hectares) of open grassland and verges that wrap around Harrogate town centre.
People in the Harrogate district will be encouraged to have their say on whether the council should seek to remove some of the restrictions on the use of the land so that more events of a broader variety can be held annually.
The use of the Stray, which is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, is regulated by the Harrogate Stray Act 1985, a private Act of Parliament, which gives Harrogate Borough Council powers to manage and protect the land to ensure residents and visitors have free access to enjoy the Stray for general recreation.
The Stray Act stipulates that for many types of events, only 3.5 hectares (the size of an international rugby pitch) can be enclosed by fencing an area off or having tents or marquees, and that the total time for which any part of the Stray can be enclosed must not exceed 35 days annually.
Currently, there is an annual programme, often booked years in advance, which allocates the time and area to regular events such as the Harrogate Bonfire, and the spring and summer Stray pleasure fairs. There is little scope for any additional events.
But Harrogate Borough Council says the restrictions of the Act cause it regular difficulties when it comes to extra requests to hold smaller, innovative events such as local food festivals, concerts, outdoor cinema and games tournaments.
These events often cannot be accommodated, and in addition, larger and more ambitious sporting, social and cultural events may not fall within the type of event which the council is permitted to licence on the Stray.
Events such as the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014 proved to be a massive success for the district and the Stray was used to host the stage one finish of the race, a fan park and as a base for the teams and international media.
However, due to the size of the area and the number of days required for the event, it did not fit with the restrictions of the Stray Act and the council had to apply to Parliament for a temporary relaxation of some of the rules.
The same application is being made in relation to the Tour de Yorkshire next year.
To avoid similar repeated applications to Parliament in the future, the council is proposing the Stray Act be amended.
Counc Michael Harrison, Deputy Leader of Harrogate Borough Council said: “The Stray is one of Harrogate’s best known landmarks, and is an ideal location for events. We have developed an enviable reputation for hosting events, however, the Stray Act is very restrictive.
“Whilst there are many groups who use the land, there is so much more we could do if the Act was amended. Sporting and healthy living activities, cultural, arts and music events, speciality outdoor markets and activities which raise funds for community benefit, could all be held on the Stray.
“As custodians of the Stray, we take our responsibilities for managing, maintaining and protecting the land very seriously. We are not looking to drastically increase the number of events that are held on the land, we are simply wanting to be able to have more flexibility over how the Stray can be used.
“Any amendments to the Stray Act would relax some of the restrictions on the use of the land, whilst at the same time emphasising the existing obligation to make sure that the Stray is preserved and protected.
"I believe amending the Act would have a real benefit for the community, and I look forward to hearing people’s views on the proposal.”
Once a date is announced for the consultation, copies of the consultation will also be available from the council’s Crescent Gardens offices in Harrogate and online www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact.