Angry Stray guardians hit at ‘secretive’ council

Stray Defence Association chairman, Judy dArcy Thompson.
Stray Defence Association chairman, Judy dArcy Thompson.

Last week, the Harrogate Advertiser gave Harrogate Borough Council the chance to outline its case for changing the Stray Act to hold more public events.

This week the Harrogate Advertiser’s Great Stray Debates offers the opportunity to the Stray Defence Association.
Its chairman, Judy d’Arcy Thompson said: “Blandishments and balderdash immediately sprang to mind when reading Coun Harrison’s words in last week’s Harrogate Advertiser.
“Although it is now obvious that the Council do wish to radically alter the current Act of Parliament protecting the Stray, for reasons best known to himself Coun Michael Harrison refuses to tell the people of the town precisely what the council’s plans are.
“How can people be expected to respond? What exactly are they being consulted about?
“On the assumption that altering an Act of Parliament is likely to be an expensive exercise, does he really expect people to believe that Harrogate’s Council would undertake such a mission without having clear views of what they want.
“More to the point, that those views would give them enough future flexibility to use the Stray for all manner of longer and larger events?
“If not, then why spend all that money doing it?
“Why can we not be told exactly what the Council and their legal team have planned?
“Coun Harrison states that, ‘there will be no buildings, no car parks.’
“Yet in their, ‘Proposal to enable Harrogate Borough Council to use the general power of competence to host a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire 2017’, there is a map which clearly shows an area required for ‘Car parking facilities on area 2’.
“This is accompanied by a lengthy list of other requirements, including:
“An enclosed secure technical zone to park up to 100 trucks.
“Temporary surfaces/roads for support vehicles (support vehicles consisting of team cars, cars for officials and medical vehicles).
“Additional temporary roads as a “peel off” to the side road to avoid a bottle neck’.
“Temporary or not, that looks very much like car and truck parking on the Stray to me.
“This is for the Tour de Yorkshire in 2017. What on earth might we expect for the event Harrogate is hosting in 2019, the Road World Championships?
“Do the Council want the new Parliamentary Act by then, in order that they can use the Stray as much as, and for whatever, they wish?
“Again, Coun Harrison says that they wish to have, ‘a clear picture of what the people of Harrogate want.’
“Why then did they begin the whole consultation exercise at the Christmas Market?
“Could it be because a very large proportion of the 60.000 visitors here that weekend were not from Harrogate?
“Coun Harrison states that peoples’ views in letters are, ‘wide of the mark’, that this is not the “thin end of the wedge.”
“Well to add to the clichés, this secretive stance by our Council is not, ‘cutting the mustard’.
“Believe me when I say that Harrogate is in danger of losing control over what is arguably its greatest asset, the Stray.
“Without the constraints of the current Parliamentary Act it will be used, and abused, beyond all recognition for much of the year.
“If the people of Harrogate do not take a stand now and allow their rights over the Stray to be relinquished, they will never be returned. And nor will our Stray.”

In last week's Harrogate Advertiser, council’s deputy leader Coun Michael Harrison wrote to the paper to clear up what he said were “misconceptions” over the bid to relax the rules on holding public events on Harrogate’s most cherished green space.
And he pledged there would be “no buildings, car parks or tarmac” on the 200 acres of open grass land.
He said the current period of public consultation about amending the Stray Act had seized the public imagination with more than 600 responses submitted already.

He said: “This consultation is fundamentally about how events on the Stray can benefit the community and have a positive long term impact on the economy of the district.
“Following the consultation, the results will be sent to the Duchy of Lancaster so that they can gain a clear picture of what the people of Harrogate want. Should the decision be made to produce detailed proposals, then the public will have a further opportunity to give their views."

“Initial feedback from respondents has suggested that there is an appetite for occasional larger events, perhaps one or two a year and we need to ensure that we are able to facilitate this.
“Currently, larger events are prohibited within the restrictions of the Stray Act. The council has to apply to Parliament for a temporary relaxation of some of the rules. Government has made it very clear to us that this costly, highly irregular, complex and time-consuming process will not be tolerated indefinitely.
He also said the council was concerned its intention to allow the public to make their own suggestions about changing the 1985 Act of Parliament which safeguards the Stray was in danger of being misinterpreted.
He said: “The questions in the public consultation are deliberately broad so as not to influence the public in their responses.

"However, it is becoming clear that this stance can lead people to think that we are not being open as to our intentions, which is simply not the case.”
“We are not seeking to ‘overturn the act’, there will be no buildings, car parks or tarmac. This is not an opportunity for a ‘free for all’, and absolutely not the ‘thin end of a wedge’.”