Forty-eight thousand households in Harrogate look set to be given a say on new ideas to tackle the thorny issue of the town’s traffic congestion as early as next month - and new roads look likely to be part of the mix.
Two packages of measures, including a long-debated Killinghall bypass and a controversial Nidd Gorge relief road option opposed by the town’s MP and most of its councillors, will be discussed next Tuesday by North Yorkshire County Council’s executive with the aim of proceeding to public consultation in February.
The meeting follows more than 12 months of talks on the Harrogate Congestion Study report drawn up twice by independent consultants WSP on behalf of the county council.
The two packages of possible solutions have already been presented to the county council’s area constituency committees for Harrogate and Knaresborough and for Ripon and Skipton.
While the meeting of Harrogate and Knaresborough county councillors overwhelmingly rejected any package including a Nidd Gorge relief road in favour of ‘green’ measures, the one with Ripon and Skipton county councillors welcomed both packages.
The possible relief road options also include a long-discussed Killinghall bypass which would would pass to the east of the village and rejoin the A61 north of Killinghall near Ripley.
The county council began its path to tackling traffic congestion in 2017 following mounting frustration over figures showing congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough was worse than anywhere else in the county council - creating alarming levels of air pollution in places.
The body making the decision over public consultation, the county council's executive committee, is made up of ten councillors and includes only two from Harrogate.
Transport minister and Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones spoke out last November against a relief road at Nidd Gorge saying the idea should be completely dropped.
He said: “Traffic going through Harrogate on the way to another destination is just seven per cent of all traffic. Would the effect of a relief road in that location really have such a dramatic effect on congestion as to be worth the environmental damage it would cause?”
Both the town's MP and Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper argue that the environmental damage caused by building at the historic nature spot would not be justified when the WSP report’s own figures showed a road at that location would not reduce congestion significantly in Harrogate town centre.
Instead they are in favour of a range ‘sustainable’ options for reducing car traffic in Harrogate.
But the councillor most associated with the issue said next week’s meeting was not about making a final decision how to tackle Harrogate’s frustratingly high level of traffic gridlock.
The question was whether to let the public have their say on a range of possible solutions - including encouraging people to use cars less often with a range of ‘green’ measures and/or building new roads such as a Killinghall bypass and an inner relief road in the Nidd Gorge area.
County councillor Don Mackenzie, executive member for access, said: “In compiling this study, our officers and consultants have listened to local county councillors and the views of interested local parties via an engagement group, which met several times last summer.
“The executive will now decide whether to consult the 48,000 households in the Harrogate and Knaresborough area about the options in the two packages.”
And Coun Mackenzie emphasised that no decisions about any of the plans for the future had yet been taken.
He said: “We are at an early stage of what will be a long process. No decision has been taken on any option or package in the report."
Although the title of the report commissioned by the county council is Harrogate Congestion Study, local politicians and resident and green groups in Harrogate have long argued the process is influenced by economic goals rather than simply traffic.
The county council itself says it commissioned the report to “look at ways to improve the quality of life, support sustainable housing and economic growth, enhance the environment, including air quality, and improve connections on the A59.”
If approved, the consultation would begin in late February and run for ten weeks.