This is how opinion looks so far in Harrogate Advertiser's Sustainable Transport Survey
A large response to the Harrogate Advertiser’s survey on people’s views about encouraging sustainable transport confirms this is an issue which is gripping the town like no other. Graham Chalmers reports on the split opinions.
A total of almost 600 surveys have so far been completed online since we set a series of key questions a week ago on the merits of plans to shake up Harrogate’s town centre and streets to give more priority to cycling and walking and less to motor vehicles.
The strength of the response to the Harrogate Advertiser’s ‘Sustainable Transport Survey’ shows how much the public cares for its town - and how divided it is on changing it.
Readers have welcomed the chance to give their views on questions which will help determine whether people who gave their support to sustainable transport in principle in previous consultations are still as enthusiastic now they are able to see the practical implications.
Among the respondees was a reader who wrote: “Times have changed. We should do all we can to reduce local car use.”
Another said: “I would like to see a town centre that is pedestrian friendly and easy to access by public transport and walking and cycling.”
But others said the complete opposite.
One wrote: “Leave the town centre as it is or, preferably, open it up to cars again. The idea of pedestrianisation is being reversed in other town centres in order to bring back life to businesses.”
Another said: "“The measures should focus more on electric vehicles, for parking and charging points for them rather than cycling.
The cycle lanes would be under-used and no more than a white elephant.”
From the results so far, a substantial majority of people remain in favour of doing something about these important issues.
But passions are running high on the precise details of what that ‘something’ is.
So fierce have arguments grown, in fact, over the first attempts to tackle climate change and traffic congestion, there is a risk of splitting the town in two - or three or four.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that North Yorkshire County Council, in conjunction with Harrogate Borough Council, is currently seeking to introduce three separate initiatives to turn the town away from car use towards sustainable transport with Government funding.
The Gateway Project in the Station Parade area, ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ at Beech Grove and Lancaster Road and the new cycle paths at Victoria Avenue, Oatlands Drive and on the A59 out of Knaresborough towards Starbeck.
To complicate matters, two of the three initiatives are undergoing public consultations with a pledge by the authorities that changes can still be made to the plans.
Debate became so heated this week that Harrogate council leader, Coun Richard Cooper, issued a warning about abusive campaigning via fake Facebook accounts.
Micro protests have also sprung up about specific streets in Harrogate, in particular James Street and Oatlands Drive.
The man heading up the planned changes, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for transport, is unphased.
Coun Don Mackenzie said: “Does the opposition surprise me? Not at all.
“The clear message delivered by the public’s response to our Harrogate Congestion Study Public Engagement called for better provision for cycling and walking, and less emphasis on roads and cars.
“But that calls for tough decisions and difficult choices. I am sure our highways officers drawing up the details will be taking into account the opinions received in this first round of consultation.”
Despite reassurances, some of the responses to the Harrogate Advertiser ‘Sustainable Transport Survey’ show huge concerns, especially about a perceived risk of pushing traffic congestion into other streets, along with opposition to pedestrianisations and reduced parking.
Among the hundreds of responses to our survey is a comment from one reader who simply yearns for a nicer town centre.
“Car is not king.
“Families need to feel welcomed in the town centre and not be afraid of speeding cars.
“These are the people who want to spend time and money in a nice environment.”