Clash of opinions at Valley Gardens open meeting

Protecting the Valley Gardens from damage - The Friends of Valley Gardens.
Protecting the Valley Gardens from damage - The Friends of Valley Gardens.

Different points of view over the future of the Valley Gardens were raised in at a packed open meeting in Harrogate.

Called by the volunteers of charity group Friends of Valley Gardens who are worried over damage caused to the park by events such as the Street Food Festival, nearl 100 people turned up at St Peter's Church in what turned out to be a largely intelligent debate over this controversial issue.

The event last Thursday night was chaired by former Harrogate Mayor Jim Clark with opening remarks by Jane Blayney, chair of the Friends of Valley Gardens, Martin Fish, gardening consultant and RHS judge, and Coun Michael Harrison, deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council Executive and cabinet member for Environment, Waste Reduction & Recycling.

People at the meeting ranged from local residents living near the Valley Gardens to event organisers.

Opinion was fairly divided between people who supported more public events and those who were alarmed by the affect this would have on the condition and character of Harrogate Borough Council's award-winning public park.

The big question underlying all the remarks during the lively but intelligent debate was:

"Where does the balance lie between preserving the beauty and traditions of the Valley Gardens and a new desire to attract visitors to Harrogate for econmic reasons and appeal to wider audience of local residents who enjoy public events."

Among those made remarks were Sharon Canavar, chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals; Collete Lain, chair of Friends of Harrogate Hospital; Pam Grant, president of Harrogate in Bloom, local historian Malcolm Neesam; local DJ Trevor Broadbank; Coun John Fox, organiser of Harrogate and District Volunteering Oscars; Sally Haslewood, founder of Harrogate Mumbler; and Brian Dunsby, ex-chief executive of Harrogate Chamber of Trade.

Some of the most interesting points made about the future holding of public events such as The StrEat Food and Family Fun Festival and the Carabosse fire festival were:

Collete Lain: "We organise The Big Picnic each year to fundraise for Harrogate Hospital and we've never damaged the Valley Gardens once in nine years.

"When I walked round the Valley Gardens after the street food festival and saw the damage, it brought tears to my eyes.

"I would hate to stop any local events in a good cause but I think they should be restricted to one day in the Valley Gardens, not four.

"The street food festival should be held in the street, not in gardens."

Coun Michael Harrison: "It's difficult to hold events on The Stray because of the rules on how it is used. It is very restricted.

"We do licence events in Valley Gardens but we don't charge for community events, only commercial ones. The Street Food Festival was the only commercial one this year we agreed to.

"Other events such as the Christmas Market held each year on The Stray also cause damage.

"With all events we licence, the council has to balance the positive impact on the town as a whole and the negative impact such as noise, litter, traffic and inconvience for residents.

"Organisers didn't expect 110,000 to turn up at the Street Food Festival. There's been no detailed planning for next year's event because no contract has been signed but there would have to be changes in the way it happened."

Sharon Canavar: " These sort of events make a massive difference to the town. They fill hotel rooms, they fill restaurants.

"It was the first time the Street Food Festival had been held and doing a first event is always challenging, it's always a learning experience for the oganisers.

"We need to use our town's assets but in an appropriate way."