Dear Reader: Anger at relief road in Bilton + talking to panto writer

Councillors, members of the public and more in the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate for a controversial meeting on a possible relief road in Bilton. (Picture by Mike Whorley)
Councillors, members of the public and more in the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate for a controversial meeting on a possible relief road in Bilton. (Picture by Mike Whorley)
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Despite the giant Christmas tree behind the top table, there was precious little festive spirit in a stormy meeting of North Yorkshire county councillors in the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate last Thursday.

I’d suspected feelings were going to run high once it got going for one simple reason.

Among the wide range of options for relieving traffic congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough about to be discussed was a relief road running from Bilton into the Nidd Gorge area.

The room was full to the brim and the ‘suits’ looked worried and stony-faced from the start.

The 20-odd councillors and council officers were outnumbered by the more than one hundred members of the public in long rows of seats.

In this sort of atmosphere anyone speaking in favour of a relief road didn’t stand a chance.

It’s true there were well-reasoned and, occasionally, moving speeches by members of the public, but there were also angry shouts and heckles and interruptions.

It got a bit ugly at times, enough to alarm Harrogate Borough Council’s own leader – and he was broadly on the crowd’s side.

But what did anyone expect?

The issue of a road through the green spaces of Bilton and Nidd Gorge was always going to be deeply inflammatory.

And I well remember the town’s then MP Phil Willis at a packed meeting called by this newspaper around 12 years ago to discuss the state of services on the York-Harrogate-Leeds railway telling the assembled crowd that if they didn’t complain more loudly they weren’t going to achieve anything.

Ironically, the start of the meeting had had to be delayed while people moved their cars from the over-full car park.

Talking to man behind Harrogate Theatre panto - oh yes he is!

The world of theatre is a superstitious one at the best of times and, as I discovered on Friday night on a visit to Harrogate Theatre, even panto isn’t immune from the old ‘breaking a leg’ and ‘Scottish play’ syndrome.

I was chatting to Phil Lowe, Beauty and the Beast’s likable director-stroke-co-writer in the lovely Circle Bar before curtain up, surrounded by excited kids and teenagers and families and adults all waiting to get in to the theatre’s incredibly popular family pantomime.

Part of reason for this annual feast of fun’s success is that it’s the result of an all-year operation.

In fact, Phil told me he was already working on ideas for next year’s panto.

It seems he makes lists of ideas constantly and has a fail-proof system for ensuring he remembers anything that pops into his head during the night in bed – he throws something on the floor.

As for this year’s panto, Beauty and the Beast, which was launched last week, he assured me in his very persuasive fashion that it was, in fact, the best yet.

The best cast, the best script, the best stunts, the best jokes.

Then he paused and touched the Circle Bar’s wooden counter.