The row over the future of the Stray intensified this week when one of the main groups in the debate issued what it describes as an “information” leaflet.
A few thousand copies of the leaflet have been printed and distributed by The Stray Defence Association which is campaigning against plans by Harrogate Borough Council to relax the rules which protect the 200 acres of open grassland and verges that wrap around Harrogate town centre
Public consultation will run until February 6 on whether to amend legislation to increase the opportunity to hold more and different types of events on the Stray.
But Judy d’Arcy Thompson, chairman of The Stray Defence Association, said the charity welcomed recent assurances by the council that its desire to extend the number of weeks for public events to ten weeks would no longer be on top of time for setting up and breakdown and that the maximum number of large events per year would now be two.
But she said the council had still not made it clear enough to the public that the proposed legal changes would give it leeway to go beyond those figures whenever it wanted.
She said: “The cabinet papers discussed at a council meeting in October said the council would wish any permanent Order to contain a provision whereby the Duchy of Lancaster could consent to a temporary suspension of these presumptive rights.
“They also say, alternatively that the council itself could vote in full council to such a suspension with a right of ‘appeal’ to the Duchy of Lancaster by any person opposing that motion.
“In other words, they want to have the ability to suspend any new Act whenever they choose to.”
But the council is arguing that it only wants to hold more public events for the benefit of both residents and the town’s economic well-being.
Coun Michael Harrison, Harrogate Borough Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for the Environment, said: ““Last week’s Harrogate Advertiser carried a very balanced and informative article on what changes the council might seek to bring forward to Parliament in a revised Stray Act following the consultation that is underway - and I would encourage people to read it and respond to the consultation.
“It is disappointing that the Stray Defence Association continue to try and misrepresent the council’s intentions.”
But the SDA’s new leaflet also highlights what it says is an additional threat to the Stray.
Judy d’Arcy Thompson said: “What might happen were we to become part of a unitary authority with care of the Stray given to Leeds, Goole, Selby or somesuch? Who would care about our precious Stray then?”
Coun Harrison said: “We take our responsibilities for managing, maintaining and protecting the Stray very seriously. 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 will be similarly restricted.”