Major plans to build a new cycle path dubbed “Harrogate’s Brexit” have taken an unexpected twist.
After receiving substantial funding from the Department for Transport in 2017 for the proposed Otley Road Cycle Scheme – which is to run from the Prince of Wales roundabout to Cardale Park – North Yorkshire County Council has been in talks for much of the year with a wide range of local groups on how best to proceed.
All concerned accept that whatever route is eventually chosen will mean losing a small section of Stray land to make way for it.
By the terms of the Stray Act, any land taken would have to be replaced by other land of equal quality and accessibility within a hundred metres of the Stray.
But, just a week after it was revealed that Oval Gardens, one of Harrogate’s most beautiful gardens for local residents, was up for sale, the possibility has been raised of Harrogate Borough Council buying the gated gardens off Leeds Road as part of a possible land swap.
The move has baffled both the West End Park Association, the residents group which was formed in 1973 following an attempt to build on the Oval Gardens, and the Stray Defence Association.
The latter say the idea is a non-starter either in the current scheme or any future schemes involving the Stray.
Judy d’Arcy Thompson, chair of the SDA, said they had unanimously rejected the Oval Gardens proposal.
She said: “We are a bit baffled by the idea of the council buying the Oval Gardens land, a highly-protected and gated amenity garden for residents in the area since the 1890s and offering it back to the Stray.
“Even though it does sit within 100 metres of the existing Stray boundary, the Stray Act says any land swap has to be ‘equally advantageous to the inhabitants of the borough as public open space.’
“To acquire this area as part of the Stray would be using one local green amenity area to, effectively, replace another and would result in an overall loss to Harrogate of four and a half acres of green amenity space in the town.”
North Yorkshire County Council confirmed it had conducted exploratory, informal discussions with the SDA about the use of Otley Road verges as part of the design for the new off-road cycle path but the decision about Oval Gardens lay with Harrogate Borough Council.
Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for access for North Yorkshire County Council, said: “Management of the Stray lies with Harrogate Borough Council and it is for that authority to determine where alternative land, if any, should be found.
“It is possible to construct the cycle path as partly on and partly off-road without using any Stray land, but I believe we should do everything we can to ensure this facility is entirely off-road.
“NYCC will work closely with HBC and will do what we can to help the borough council to make progress with any land swap proposal.”
A spokesperson for Harrogate Borough Council said they were looking at several options for land to swap as anything would need to be agreed by several parties, including the Duchy of Lancaster, which owns the Stray.
Coun Phil Ireland, cabinet member for sustainable travel, said: “If the proposal involves land belonging to the Stray, another area of land would need to be identified that can be used to replace the land required for the cycle path, as per the Stray Act.
“Both we and the county council are still exploring the best options to help implement this much-needed cycle path, which will bring additional travel choices, health benefits and improve safety for cyclists. A public consultation will also be required.”
The county council acknowledges that some residents are concerned that few details have been made public.
However, Coun Mackenzie said more information would be made public soon.
Coun Mackenzie said: "We are mindful that some residents are concerned that few details of the work the County Council has carried out so far have been made public.
That is because, whilst these early discussions with the SDA have been continuing, firm proposals could not be announced.
"I believe we will be in a position by next Monday, December 17 to publish details of the progress made so far, by means of an Otley Road Cycle Path webpage on the NYCC website. There will also be an update on plans to hold a public consultation on the proposals during January 2019."