Council launches 'pop up' consultation over controversial Stray changes

Harrogate Borough Council deputy leader Coun Michael Harrison.
Harrogate Borough Council deputy leader Coun Michael Harrison.

As the temperature hots up over plans to relax rules protecting the Stray, Harrogate Borough Council is to hold two drop-in events this week as part of its public consultation.

The events tomorrow, Thursday, December 22 and Friday, December 23 at Victoria Shopping Centre in Harrogate will enable the public to talk to council officers on the question of whether the council should seek to amend the Harrogate Stray Act 1985 to increase the opportunity to hold more and different types of events on the Stray.

The Stray in Harrogate.

The Stray in Harrogate.

Held between between 11am-7pm today and and 11am-2pm tomorrow on the first floor of the shopping centre, the pop-up will also offer the public the chance to view consultation materials and give their own feedback.

The consultation has been launched because of what the council says are potential limitations on Harrogate’s ability to host major events in the future in light of the town's growing reputation as a location for quality events .

Coun Michael Harrison, Deputy Leader of Harrogate Borough Council said: “The purpose of this consultation is to gauge public opinion on whether they would like to see a modest increase in the number and type of events held annually on the Stray, but with suitable safeguards in place to protect it in the future.

“The drop in event at the Christmas Market proved to be a big success, however it did become apparent that there were some misconceptions about the intention of the consultation.

“We are not looking to drastically change the Stray Act, we are simply considering whether it should be modernised. Perhaps, the Act could be amended to allow more types of community events, or to ensure that large events like the Tour de France could continue to be held in Harrogate in the future. Whatever your view, we would like to hear from you.”

As part of the public consultation which runs Monday, February 6 2017, an exhibition of the public consultation materials will also be held from Monday, January 9 in the foyer at St Peter’s Church on Cambridge Street in Harrogate.

What the Stray Act says

The use of the Stray, which is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, is regulated by the Harrogate Stray Act 1985, a private Act of Parliament. This gives Harrogate Borough Council powers to manage and protect the land to ensure residents and visitors have free access to enjoy it for general recreation.

Currently, larger events (greater than 3.5 hectares in size) such as the Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire are prohibited from being held on the Stray due to the restrictions of the Stray Act.

In these instances, the council has to apply to Parliament for a temporary relaxation of some of the rules.

However, the council says the Government has made it clear that this time-consuming process cannot be repeated indefinitely.

If Harrogate wishes to hold large events in the future, the council says the Stray Act will need to be amended to include a mechanism to allow this - subject to safeguards.

Under the Stray Act, only 3.5 hectares (the size of three international rugby pitches) can be enclosed by fencing or tents or marquees at any time, and the total time any part of the Stray can be enclosed must not exceed 35 days in any one year. This includes the time taken to set up and dismantle events.

Regular events take up most of the 35 days allocation, including the Bonfire, the Christmas Market, the Spring and Autumn funfairs, the Race for Life and big screens for the Harrogate International Festival, meaning that other events often can’t be accommodated.

The restriction on the type of events that can take place means that only circuses, pleasure fairs, shows or other public entertainments, displays and events for the raising of funds for charitable purposes are currently permitted.

Opposition

But the charity which aims to protect the Stray in all ways, says the council plans would potentially damage what is the town's 'jewel in the crown'.

The chairman of the Stray Defence Association, Judy d’Arcy Thompson, said: "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.”

The public consultation is available to complete at https://www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact. Copies of the consultation are also available from the council’s Crescent Gardens offices in Harrogate.

How to make your opinion known

The public consultation is available to complete at https://www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact. Copies of the consultation are also available from the council’s Crescent Gardens offices in Harrogate.