DEBATE - New vision for Harrogate centre

Masterplan
Masterplan

Pedestrianisation of much of Harrogate town centre. New piazzas, spa hotels, and a family attraction to rival York and Leeds. As a new vision for the future of Harrogate is revealed, RUBY KITCHEN reports.

A radical new masterplan has been revealed which could transform Harrogate town centre to make it more viable for the future.

The strategy plan, commissioned by Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) at a cost of £50,000, sets out a first draft of potential ideas for change in the town centre.

It includes a raft of ideas, from further pedestrianisation of much of the central part of the town, inside the Station Parade, Cheltenham Parade and Parliament Street main routes, to the creation of a new visitor attraction like the Jorvic centre or the Royal Armouries.

Oxford Street could house an outdoor entertainments area, while the bottom of Montpellier Hill could be reshaped to create an al-fresco dining area and tiered performance space.

Public exhibitions on the draft are to be held this week, with the council calling for comment from residents and businesses alike.

“It’s an early draft of some ideas as to how we can make sure that the town centre is fit for purpose in the future,” said Coun Michael Harrison, cabinet member for planning.

“Harrogate is thriving. But we need to make sure that, in 20 years, it’s still a place that people want to come.”

The Harrogate Town Centre Strategy and Masterplan (HTCSM), commissioned by HBC and carried out by Peter Brett Associates, assesses the town centre’s strengths and weaknesses, setting out a vision for growth.

The council is now seeking comment on the ‘baseline’ report published this week, feedback from which will shape a formal masterplan to be consulted on later this year.

The plan, the hope is, would then attract investment in some of the ideas, shaping decisions about the future of the town.

Harrogate town centre is “vibrant and viable” the report says, with a healthy retail offering and an estimated turnover of more than £300m.

There is a focus on older shoppers, with upscale outlets and classic fashions, and a good range of national chains and independent retailers.

Harrogate has weathered the economic storms of recent years well compared with other towns and cities of this scale, the report says.

But, it adds, it is also highly congested, with limited outdoor space for events.

The report sets out a number of options and opportunities, seeking feedback before a formal consultation.

“This report sets out some early ideas,” said Coun Harrison. “We are still shaping a strategy.

“This exercise is about people, residents, businesses, letting us know what they would like to see happening in Harrogate in coming years. But it’s vitally important to remember this is a first draft.”

l Public exhibitions are to be held on the draft in the foyer at St Peter’s Church. Council officers and representatives from Peter Brett will attend an exhibition tomorrow (Friday, January 16), between 11am and 4pm and on Saturday between 10am and 3pm to answer any questions. Visit www.harrogate.gov.uk to review the report.

l What do you think to the proposals? Have your say - join the debate. Email ruby.kitchen@jpress.co.uk, call 01423 707509, or visit www.harrogateadvertiser.co.uk.

Masterplan’s key features

l Conference centre - Harrogate lacks a key attraction - particularly a family friendly wet weather attraction like the Jorvik centre in York or the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Harrogate needs a “big beast” to draw people from outside the area with strong family appeal, possibly with a spa theme. Consideration could be given to a new museum or visitor attraction for families, potentially in Hall Q at the HIC, with a town trail.

l Crescent Gardens - New, high quality spa hotel. Harrogate is short on hotel beds at times, there is potential for a new budget hotel offering and up to five star. A spa hotel has been mentioned several times. Crescent Gardens, the council’s current base, has been highlighted as the favoured site.

l Cenotaph - Pedestrianisation of the area around the war memorial, linking the main shopping streets with the Montpellier Quarter and creating a new public square. Cambridge Crescent would become pedestrianised.

l Montpellier - Pedestrianise Montellier Parade, removing on street parking, although the busy Montpellier Hill would remain open to traffic. Create a terrace to encourage outdoor dining, and a tiered performance space on Prospect Gardens. The Montpellier Quarter could become a centre for more cultural activity.

l Bus and train stations - Station Parade and Station Square plans could see an integrated and improved transport bus and rail interchange, with new retail, leisure and office development. New water feature and redesign at Victoria Gardens.

l James Street and Princes Square - Pedestrianise James Street, or part pedestrianise, improving links between Station Square and the war memorial. Other options could include wider pavements, reducing on-street parking, and resurfacing.

l Station Avenue - Potential refurbishment and extension of cinema building to provide new leisure facilities such as a bowling alley or casino. A casino in particular, the report says, might be a good fit for Harrogate with the town’s tourism base and it’s “older, relatively more prosperous” customers.

l Oxford Street - Creation of a performance space at the entrance to Harrogate theatre. Local groups, like those running the Crime Writing Festival and the Harrogate Christmas Market, are constrained by a lack of outdoor space and a central piazza. Options should be considered, the report says, for “paving activity”, potentially a tree lined boulevard along Kings Road and in particular on Oxford Street, in the area around the theatre. This should be “key priority”, the report says.

l Al Fresco dining - Every effort should be made to increase the amount of al-fresco eating and drinking areas throughout the town centre, the report says. This could also extend to temporary beer gardens, ideally as part of or in close proximity to key cultural facilities like the spiegeltent.