Passions rise but what are the chances of Harrogate town centre going green?
County council leaders behind once-in-a-generation plans to transform Harrogate town centre are considering their next steps after receiving more than 1,000 responses in a recent consultation about the £7.9 million Gateway project.
With passions rising over efforts to reshape the town for a future based on more sustainable transport, North Yorkshire County Council said it was important to ‘take the public with them’ when deciding on the detailed changes to come.
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, executive member for transport, said: “Gateway is a once in a generation chance to re-design Harrogate town centre and it is essential we get this right for everyone, our residents, businesses and visitors.
“I’m particularly pleased that in Harrogate we received more than 1,000 responses from a wide cross-section of the public.
“We will now analyse the responses with a view to presenting a detailed report on the consultation findings next month.
“These will inform our decision on which options to take forward to detailed design.
“We will then seek further opinions on those designs.”
Coun Phil Ireland, cabinet member for carbon reduction and sustainability at Harrogate Borough Council, which backed the county council’s bid for transport funding for Gateway, said the project promised a brighter future for the town centre.
He said: “This scheme has the potential to create many more walking and cycling opportunities while transforming the look and feel of the station gateway area in Harrogate.
“I look forward to seeing the analysis of the consultation so it can inform the next steps.”
But the political warning signs are already there for the Gateway project, which comes after a partnership of local authorities in Harrogate, Selby and Craven secured a total of £31m for projects in the three town centres from the Department for Transport’s Transforming Cities Fund (TCF).
Although recent public consultations, including the Harrogate Advertiser’s own Sustainable Transport Survey, have tended to show clear majorities for a lower carbon future in Harrogate, fierce opposition has sprung up from residents and businesses in the areas most affected by new cycle lanes and pedestrianisations.
While supporting the general principle of tackling carbon emissions and traffic congestion in Harrogate, there has been a backlash from a wide range of business groups and civic groups vehemently opposed to major elements of the practical steps to bring change.
Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive Sandra Doherty is just one of those supporting the idea of Gateway while rejecting some of its key parts, in particular the prospect of one-lane traffic on Station Parade.
She said: “The scheme brings with it a definite improvement to entering Harrogate via rail or bus but it is important that those arriving by car are welcomed equally to those who come via public transport, on foot or cycle.
“Station Parade should retain its two lanes, with the left-hand lane reserved for buses and taxis and the right for other vehicles.”
Largely funded and promoted by the Government, the new green measures beginning to be introduced in Harrogate including Gateway, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Active Travel Fund schemes come with public consultation as an integral part of any action.
In a sign this amounts to more than a mere formality, North Yorkshire County Council has already amended its plans for an ambitious new cycle path on Oatlands Drive near St Aidan’s School, scrapping the idea of imposing a one-way system for cars after a wave of protests.
Most of the naysayers picking away at sustainable transport measures are also keen to offer their own alternative ideas for change, offering positive hope that progress can still be made.
All of them question how the current plans fit into the bigger picture and whether these limited initiatives will be of real benefit to the town.
But Harrogate’s green campaigners fear that at the heart of the alternative suggestions from different groups lies a shared reluctance to interfere with the progress of car traffic or make reductions to parking in the town centre, both prerequisites for cutting traffic congestion and tackling climate change.
The post-war history of Harrogate is littered with ambitious schemes for major shake-ups of the town centre which have foundered under the pressure of public opinion.
Will local authorities stick to their blueprint for a greener future for Harrogate or will they become bogged down in a war of attrition?
One difference this time is that they have the Government funds to go forward.
The question is whether they can take enough of the public with them.
By Graham Chalmers, Harrogate Advertiser
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