Britain’s oldest national conservation body, The Open Spaces Society, has come out against Harrogate Borough Council’s plans to extend and expand the use of Harrogate Stray for “commercial activities” and public events.
Harrogate Borough Council recently launched consultation with the public on its proposals to relax the provisions of the Harrogate Stray Act 1985.
The Act restricts the types of events which can take place on this beautiful green space. as well as the number of days to 35 a year, and the maximum area that can be enclosed at any one time to 3.5 hectares.
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society which was founded in 1865, said: “We strongly oppose the idea that the Stray should be used more frequently and for larger, commercial events.
“This goes against the ethos of a place which is so treasured both by residents and visitors. “
The organisation was originally called the Commons Preservation Society before merging with the National Footpaths Society in 1899,
Among the original supporters of Open Spaces Society were John Stuart Mill and William Morris.
But Coun Michael Harrison, deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council said: “I respect everyone’s opinion on this subject, and would urge as many residents to respond to the consultation as possible.
"For the Open Spaces Society to simply focus on ‘commercial’ activities ignores our wider aims of allowing greater access for smaller community or charitable events.
“Should we receive public support for amending the Stray Act, the Duchy of Lancaster will still be required to approve the occasional larger events, and as soon as the event is over, the Stray would revert as now to open green space."
The current body believes changing the Stray Act would out at risk the grassland’s inherent character.
Kate Ashbrook said: "Noisy, crowded activities would conflict with people’s quiet use of the land and its splendid setting for the town.
"The historic Stray should remain open and free for people to enjoy, as they have done since time immemorial."
But Coun Harrison said the Stray could be used more without ruining it.
He said: “Our experience of large events has shown that the community is still able to enjoy the Stray when they are being held.
"For instance, the Tour de France, the largest event ever held on the Stray, occupied just over 14 hectares of the 80 hectare Stray.
“I agree that the Stray is treasured by residents and visitors, but I don’t think that the occasional well-attended event on a section of the Stray conflicts with that.
"After all, I’m sure when Samson Fox held his Ox Roast there in 1887 – not long after the Open Space Society was formed – there was quite a crowd and a reasonable amount of noise.”
The public consultation runs until February 6, 2017 at www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact