I was a guest speaker at this month’s meeting of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce at the Cedar Court Hotel.
The theme was “Maintaining a vibrant town centre”, a topical subject given Harrogate Borough Council’s proposals contained in a masterplan, which was subject to public consultation last year.
While this is the borough’s initiative, North Yorkshire County Council is supportive of the ambitions.
I explained to the meeting that the county recognised its responsibilities to ensure that Harrogate remained a highly successful local economy, and that good transport connections both within and to town were essential.
After many years of constraint in housebuilding, recent large planning permissions pointed to an acceleration in population growth. Added to this is the fact that a significant part of the local economy relies on bringing in more business and leisure visitors. All of this puts ever greater pressure on our transport infrastructure, risking more congestion on the approach roads to the town and in the centre itself.
What does NYCC intend to do? Supporting investment in rail is a top priority for the county. We have already secured over £12.5m, including over £3m of our own funding, towards doubling much of the railway track between Knaresborough and York.
This should be completed by 2019 and will allow faster, more frequent services, and facilitate future electrification of the line.
The county’s recently adopted Local Transport Plan and our Strategic Transport Prospectus published last year prioritise major improvements to the A59, including a relief road for Harrogate.
Options for the routing of this scheme are currently being drawn up and will be considered by a steering group of North Yorkshire and Harrogate Borough councillors in the next few weeks.
We use the term “relief road” in preference to “bypass” since it is believed that there are more advantages to be gained from a road which re-distributes local traffic rather than one which prioritises the diversion of longer distance travellers. I suggested to Chamber members that offering, say, a Knaresborough resident who works in Cardale Park a route to and from work which avoids Harrogate town centre and the existing approach roads is likely to be of greater benefit than providing a bypass for a driver travelling, say, from Bradford to Ripon.
As far as town centre congestion is concerned, given the extreme unlikelihood of viable schemes for tunnels and flyovers, and constrained as we are by the Stray to the south and west, it would seem that our best options for improvement lie with encouraging greater use of public transport offered by trains and buses, and providing better facilities for cycling and walking in which both NYCC and HBC are already actively engaged.
An important source of funding for initiatives to combat congestion and for drawing up bids for major improvement schemes is the surplus generated by on-street parking charges.
I stated that proposals to introduce charges for Sundays and evenings would be considered again by NYCC in the next few months, following recent meetings with HBC to review all parking, including off-street. I gave an assurance that there were no plans to reduce the number of free disc-parking spaces as there are about four times as many disc and residents’ parking spaces as pay-and-display.
Many roads in the area are currently being “surface dressed”. This very cost effective and quick way of improving roads involves the sealing of the road surface with a bituminous liquid into which stone chippings are applied. Most of these will amalgamate with the surface. Loose chippings will be swept up by a mechanical sweeper afterwards.
There are, of course, plenty of roads which require more fundamental repair and resurfacing, such as Beckwith Road which recent letters have mentioned as being particularly bad. These will be done in due course.
The streetlight replacement is well underway. The Civic Society has received requests for the cast iron columns for use in locations like Valley Gardens and the grounds of leading hotels. Our lighting engineers have also responded to requests from householders to keep the cast iron column in front of their property for use in their gardens.
Expect some news very soon on options being considered to improve pedestrians’ understanding of the Cheltenham Parade/Station Parade crossing facility next to the bus station.
A letter recently suggested that I have failed to reply to criticism of the M&S junction on Leeds Road. I have made clear in this newspaper that I believe that junction is now working efficiently.
Finally, a reminder to drivers parking in the spaces at the bottom of Parliament Street – these are for taxis only in the evenings, so please heed the signs to avoid a ticket.