A 12-week public consultation asking whether Harrogate Borough Council should seek to amend the Stray Act 1985 is now under way with an online survey and a stand at this week's Harrogate Christmas Market.
The council is consulting on whether to amend legislation to increase the opportunity to hold more and different types of events on the Stray, an area of 200 acres (80 hectares) of open grassland and verges that wrap around Harrogate town centre.
The public are encouraged to have their say on whether the council should seek to relax some of the restrictions on the use of the land so that more events, of more variety can be held throughout the year.
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.
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.
The restrictions of the Act present difficulties when it comes to extra requests to hold smaller, innovative events such as local food festivals, concerts, outdoor cinema and games tournaments.
Events such as the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014 were a tremendous success for the district, with the Stray hosting the stage one race finish, a fan park and providing a base for the cycle teams and international media.
However, due to the size of the area and the number of days required for the event, it did not fit with the restrictions of the Stray Act and the council had to apply to Parliament for a temporary relaxation of some of the rules.
The council is currently making a repeat application to facilitate next year’s Tour de Yorkshire stop off in Harrogate.
Permanent amendment of the Stray Act would avoid having to make similar applications to Parliament in the future, and it is the public’s appetite for such a change that is being tested through the consultation.
Counc Michael Harrison, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for the Environment, said: “Harrogate has an enviable reputation for holding events. That reputation was cemented in style when we hosted the Stage 1 finish of the Tour de France in 2014. Ever since that memorable day we have repeatedly been asked when more events of that type will be held.
“The Stray is our village green and one of the town’s best known landmarks. It is recognised as a natural location for events, but its use is heavily restricted by the Stray Act.
“Without amendment to the Act more events on the scale of the Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire are unlikely to be possible and smaller events with a sporting, cultural, arts or music focus, which raise funds for community benefit, will be similarly restricted.
“We take our responsibilities for managing, maintaining and protecting the Stray very seriously and are not looking to drastically increase the number of events held on the land, nor change the fundamental aspect of it. We do believe however that having more flexibility over how the Stray can be used would have a real benefit for the community, and I look forward to hearing people’s views on the issue.”
The consultation runs for 12 weeks, finishing on Monday 6 February 2017.
The public consultation is available to complete from today at https://www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact.
Copies of the consultation are also available from the council’s Crescent Gardens offices in Harrogate.
Visitors to this year’s Harrogate Christmas Market will also be able to have their say as council officers will be at the event to answer questions and hand out copies of the consultation questionnaire.
The council stand will be on the Montpellier Hill part of the market. It will be open from 10am-8pm Thursday, November 17 to Saturday, November 19 and 10am to 5pm on Sunday, November 20.