Council in signs dispute after 'friction' over cycling on Pinewoods path

Taken down - Part of one of the advisory signs on the Pinewoods path removed by Harrogate Borough Council.
Taken down - Part of one of the advisory signs on the Pinewoods path removed by Harrogate Borough Council.

The uneasy peace between cyclists and walkers on a popular path at Harrogate's Pinewoods has been broken by a wrangle over six signs.

Pinewoods Conservation Group is complaining that the signs, which offered advice on conduct for walkers, cyclists, dogs and horses, were taken down unilaterally by the council last week because the council believes they only serve to encourage such activivites on the tarmac footpath which runs from the woods at the top of Valley Gardens to RHS Harlow Carr.

Neil Hinds, chairman of the charity Pinewoods Conservation Group, said they were surprised and disappointed by the councils quick action here before being able to meet with them to discuss their concerns.

He said: "The initial feedback from Pinewoods members and local residents was that they wanted the signs to stay and felt they have improved behaviours of users on the path. We are now back to having no signs and no enforcement of any rules."

But Coun Michael Harrison, Harrogate Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Waste Reduction and Recycling, said the paths in question, which run through the Pinewoods and Valley Gardens, were designated as footpaths only, and cycling and horse riding are not permitted on footpaths.

Coun Harrison said: “We are extremely grateful for the work undertaken by the Pinewoods Conservation Group to protect our natural environment.

"Whilst we appreciate the group acted with the best of intentions in erecting the signage encouraging efforts to ‘share with care’, in this instance the signage was not suitable.

"The signage suggested these activities were permitted, and this could lead to confusion."

The issue as a whole has been rumbling already for almost a year as more and more people use the path for different types of outdoors activities.

Neil Hinds said: "We just want people who use the path to 'share with care'. The cyclists are using the Pinewoods path to Harlow carr as a shortcut because going up Otley Road is a nightmare.

"Then there's walkers and dog walkers horse riders using it a bit. There's always been a bit of friction. The sign was to encourage courteous behaviour.

"We let the council know a year ago that we were planning to put a sign up but they didn't respond."

The volunteers of Pinewoods Conservation Group said the problem had increased after the path was resurfaced and tarmac-ed properly earlier this year.

They decided the best course of action was to put up signs which were designed by Sustrans, a leading UK charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys people make every day.

Neil Hinds: "We'd said to the council it would be good to have a meeting about it but nothing happened so we put six signs up in March.

"They told us to take them down recently and we were anxious to talk but the signs were taken down suddenly last week."

But Harrogate Borough Council said its main aim was to ensure this popular path in the Pinewoods was used correctly.

Coun Michael Harrison said: "Although the council was approached for consent, we gave no consent for the erection of the signs. As part of discussions with the group they were asked to remove the signs, however some of them remained in place, so we made the decision to remove them ourselves.

“We are keen for people to visit the Pinewoods and Valley Gardens, however we must ensure that those people using the footpaths can do so safely and in compliance with their designated use.”

Pinewoods Conservation Group is keen to continue to have good relations with HBC, partly because it is also currently working with the council to improve and open up a bridleway through the area.

Neil Hinds said: "For the last 12 months we have also been working with the council on clearing and resigning the permissive bridleway that would encourage more riders that the council now seem to want to turn away.”