Just days before the launch of public consultation into possible traffic congestion measures for Harrogate, the waters have been muddied by a letter advising residents about their homes being subject to compulsory purchase orders.
Although North Yorkshire County Council will not press the start button on 12 weeks of public engagement until next Monday, April 15, the letter from an estate agent says “the county council has plans to construct a Harrogate Relief Road.”
With a drone also spotted 50 metres in the air in Harrogate last Monday taking a bird’s eye view of a potential route for a possible new road which the county council admits is their’s, the debate over traffic congestion is heating up before it’s even begun.
Neither matter is helpful to the county councillor most associated with the whole, lengthy process which has already seen two separate Harrogate Congestion Study reports prepareds by international consultants WSP.
Coun Don Mackenzie, the council’s executive member for access said: “My first reaction to the letter is frankly one of disbelief that a reputable estate agent and valuer would send such a letter, which is intended as a piece of marketing, but is likely to cause alarm to some recipients.
“The letter is ill-judged. We are many years away from the need to consider such matters even if the findings of the forthcoming engagement reveal strong support for a new road.”
The chair of Nidd Gorge Community Action, one of the residents groups opposed to any relief road near Nidd Gorge, an idea already rejected by Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones and most of Harrogate Borough Council, said he was taking the letter from the Leeds branch of Carter Jonas with a pinch of salt.
But he remained worried about the general direction of the traffic congestion process.
Speaking for Nidd Gorge Community Action, Chris Kitson said: “The letter is clearly a speculative marketing letter. We suspect when the consultation starts the east-west connectivity and economic development motives of the county council will be downplayed and the people will be asked to focus on ‘congestion’
“We also suspect that the public wil be wrongly informed that the relief road will reduce congestion, when in reality it will increase traffic due to the extra east-west, through-traffic, particularly freight, it will generate.”
But Carter Jonas said it was only doing the sensible thing with its letter.
David Vernon, Partner, Carter Jonas in Leeds, said: “We are sorry if our letter has caused any alarm, as it was certainly not our intention.
"We believe that this is the time for all potentially affected parties to engage on such an important issue for the region.
“As is typical at this stage of an infrastructure project, be it road, rail, or energy project, across the UK, we provide advice on the Option Selection and Compulsory Purchase process and wanted to offer our services to any residents and businesses that might be affected, in order to guide them through what is a difficult and complicated process.
“We feel that now is the right time to engage as a community, so that all views are represented when it comes to selecting the preferred option and final design, and by assisting that process, we believe it will help shape an option that represents best value for both the community affected and the promoter of the scheme.”