When Harrogate and Knaresborough councillors meet on November 8 at the Cairn Hotel to discuss the Harrogate Congestion Study it will be the most important step yet in a long-running saga which could impact on traffic levels, the residents of Bilton and the future of beauty spot Nidd Gorge for years to come.
Or, perhaps, not.
The question of what to do about Harrogate’s clogged-up roads and whether the solution lies in getting drivers and cars off the road or building more roads to accomodate them or a bit of both was triggered in November 2014 when county councillors from the Harrogate district asked North Yorkshire County Council to consider a study into a western and northern relief road.
The issue had been bubbling quietly throughout the early 1990s when various routes for a possible Harrogate and Knaresborough relief road were explored and then put on the backburner.
But, finally, as requested by local councillors, there was progress.
In 2016 the county council authorised a review of the issue and hired WSP, one of the world’s leading engineering professional services firms, to analyse ideas for reducing traffic congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
When its findings were reported to local county councillors of Harrogate Area Committee in December 2017, the blue touch paper was lit.
The county council’s executive put two options up for discussion - package E (new roads combined with sustainble transport policies) or package B (sustainable transport options only) .
What raised temperatures at a stormy meeting was that one of the favoured relief road options was to go through residential areas of BIlton and the beauty spot of Nidd Gorge.
Under pressure from angry local residents groups and local green campaigners, councillors voted by 14 to two to reject any option which included a relief road in favour environmentally-friendly transport measures including cycling.
Among those voting against a Nidd Gorge relief road was Coun Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council who pointed out the report’s own figures showed the proposed relief road options would not reduce traffic in Harrogate itself.
But the decision on this major transport issue lies with North Yorkshire County Council’s executive, not local councillors.
In the aftermath of the vote, a planned public consultation on traffic congestion solutions was postponed.
The county council’s corporate director David Bowe then announced the council would authorise WSP to “develop and refine” their proposals for congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
At the same time, perhaps, in reaction to that stormy meeting, the county council set up an ‘engagement group’ made up of members from businesses, transport operators, transport action groups and environmental groups, as well as elected members from the county, district and parish councils.
One of the key figures in the story, Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for highways and passenger transport said the group’s discussions would feed into the next step.
He said: “The postponement was intended to give officers and consultants more time to add more detail to the elements of the packages.
“Consultants WSP were engaged in March to carry out this additional work which has been going on since then.
“Additionally, an Engagement Group, made up of delegates of diverse organisations in the two towns, was set up.
“The group met on three occasions over the summer and were also invited to a further drop-in information event. Minutes of opinions expressed can be viewed on the website. The views of the Engagement Group have been included in a report currently in preparation.
“Our top priority is to reduce congestion in the Harrogate area, a problem which is growing year by year and which affects us all. We are confident that our work with the engagement group will enable us to be ready to undertake an extensive public consultation early in 2019 if such a decision is taken.”
Murking the waters in the background is another long-running transport issue important to North Yorkshire.
At the same time as the county council is discussing Harrogate and Knaresborough traffic congestion, its executive members are liaising with the Department of Transport about proposals for the creation of an MSN - or Major Road Network - in the north.
its aims are wider than merely tackling congestion. The goal is to support economic growth, support the delivery of new housing and ‘rebalance the economy’.
Those talks have raised the on-going issue of what to do with key local road the A59, specifically at Kex Gill, which has been hit by landslips.
Some local campaigners argue it’s this bigger picture which is partly driving the Harrogate Congestion Study.
What the WSP report says at the meeting on November 8 should make interesting reading...
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