Two sides clash over holding more public events on The Stray

The Stray in Harrogate.

The Stray in Harrogate.

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Public consultation has begun over whether strict rules protecting the Stray in Harrogate should change to make it easier to host more public events?

Harrogate Borough Council’s proposal has already alarmed the Stray Defence Association, writes GRAHAM CHALMERS.

In the latest in our Great Stray Debate series of articles examining the issues from all the angles, the two sides set out their arguments.

FOR CHANGING STRAY RULES

Coun Michael Harrison, deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council and executive member for Environment, Waste Reduction & Recycling

“Who can forget the three days of the Tour de France. An event for the whole community which brought millions of pounds into our local economy, supported thousands of local jobs and put Harrogate on the world map.

“What if a similar opportunity came our way again? Would we turn that opportunity down or would our district embrace it and rise to the challenge all over again?

“At the moment we have no choice – we would have to turn it down. I want to use this opportunity to explain why, and what we as a community can do to change that.

“As the councillor responsible for maintenance of the Stray, I agree wholeheartedly with a statement made in this newspaper recently by Malcolm Neesam that since 1770 it is only because the local authority or individuals have found sections of the legislation ‘inconvenient’ that the Stray has survived.

Previous attempts through history to create things such as a lake, conference centre, road or exhibition hall were all inappropriate and were rightly rejected as they were seeking to fundamentally change the very nature of the Stray.

“I understand that any attempt to relax some of the restrictions of the Act might be viewed with suspicion. However I would urge people to look at exactly what we might want to relax before forming an opinion.

“The principle that the Stray must have free and unrestricted access for the greater part of each year is sacrosanct.

“I believe that any changes made need to be so unambiguous that future generations cannot exploit them in a way that would fundamentally change this principle.

The Stray is the jewel in Harrogate’s crown, yet the Council is prevented from granting requests to hold the kind of cultural entertainment or sporting events on it which enthuse the community.

“The recent controversy around holding a food festival in Valley Gardens led to an often heard response from residents – ”Why can’t it be held on the Stray” – well the answer is simple, we aren’t allowed to.

“ Some of the regular events that residents will recognise on the Stray - the Bonfire, the Travelling Fairground, the Christmas Market - are able to be licensed within the limited scope the Council currently has to allow temporary ‘inclosure’ of the Stray.

“However, those events alone take up nearly 90% of the entire time available for events every year – leaving very little for anything else.

“The changes we are minded to request would allow a more varied range of events to be held, including a few on a larger scale, and would only require a modest increase in the number of days when ‘inclosure’ is permitted.

“The underlying premise would always be that once the event is over, the Stray reverts immediately back to green open space – as it did when the Tour de France visited. On that occasion we had to apply to Parliament to get the Stray Act suspended.

“This was an extraordinary process to follow, but the only one available to us, and the Government have made it clear that they are unwilling to consider repeated requests to do this. Already we are in pole position to host events like the Tour de Yorkshire and the World Cycling Road Race Championships.

“These are worth tens of millions of pounds to our area. There will be people from all over the world spending in our shops, keeping young people employed in our hospitality industry.

“If residents want to see occasional larger events like this, or more regular smaller events, then a change to the Act is required. In order to ensure that any relaxation is not too generous, and still has independent safeguards, our proposals would see us having to approach the Duchy for permission to host the larger events.

“Harrogate is a special place because of the Stray. The Council’s overarching duty to ‘preserve the aspect’ of the Stray includes a presumption of free access and recreation. This will never change.

“I firmly believe that a modernised Stray Act would be a positive step. If you agree, then please respond to the consultation, as we can only proceed if the public is in favour.”

The public consultation on on modernising the Stray Act will run until Monday, February 6, 2017.

The public consultation is available to complete at www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact with printed copies also available at the council’s Crescent Gardens offices.

What do you think? We welcome your views.

Please contact us via the Harrogate Advertiser Facebook page, website or Twitter @HgateAdvertiser or by email to news@harrogateadvertiser.co.uk

AGAINST CHANGING STRAY RULES

Judy d’Arcy Thompson, chairman of The stray Defence Association, Harrogate

“Our Stray is currently not only well loved but well used and for precisely the sort of things anticipated by those who set out the 1985 Act of Parliament which safeguards it.

“Presently Harrogate’s people can use the Stray for their leisure and enjoyment when they choose to, unobstructed and free of charge.

“Now it seems that our council are viewing the Stray not as a unique and wonderful asset of the town, and most importantly its people, but as a financial resource, something from which commercial gain can be made, a very handy ‘cash cow’.

“To this end they hope to overturn the Stray Act, effectively ending the protection currently given to this precious asset.

“As upholding the rights of Harrogate’s people to have, ‘the right of free and unrestricted access’, to the Stray is a main principle of the Stray Act, it does not allow use of the Stray to be restricted for very long, nor over a large area,

“Changing the Act would, therefore, almost certainly involve the council asking for the right to hold very much larger events, using a very much wider area of the Stray, thereby restricting its use to the rest of us.

“Inevitably, the length of such events would similarly be extended, enabling the council to not only restrict access to the Stray but allow promoters to stage their festivals, fairs, sales, music, etc over greatly extended periods of time.

“Do the people of Harrogate really want to exchange their current right to use the Stray so freely for a Stray often restricted, fenced off, hired out to various ‘eventers’, for who knows what?

“Yes, we have welcomed and enjoyed recent larger scale events, with more to come. However, is it really feasible, or desirable, to think that this should be done regularly throughout the year, and for all manner of events, for monetary gain?

“The Stray gently coexists with the rest of the town and its companions in leisure, the beautiful Valley Gardens and the Pinewoods etc.

“Yet, regrettably, recent weeks have seen damage to certain of these other well loved areas, largely in the name of commerce. Surely something not to be desired for the Stray?

“Since 1933 The Stray Defence Association has been here to fight for the Stray and the rights of the people of Harrogate.

“Those who came before us formed the Association to oppose the then council’s plans to dig up and damage the Stray.

“Something which, rightly, angered the population of Harrogate. Sadly, its seems there are still those who would act in a detrimental way.

“It is our experience that Harrogate people not only love their Stray but are, generally, very respectful of it and the need to keep it special.

“Unsurprisingly, because how many towns can boast an area of such outstanding natural beauty wrapped around the very heart of their town?

“How many towns have such an enviable treasure helping to counteract town centre air pollution?

“Anyone can join us and we have a website telling those not fortunate enough to live in Harrogate all about the beauty of our wonderful Stray.

“When people answer the council’s consultation document we are asking them to consider very, very carefully indeed what their answers could mean to the outcome.

“Believing, and answering, something that may seem, ‘like a good idea at the time’, may have profound and far reaching effects upon our town and future generations.

“After all, the Stray

is not ours to give away. It

is our children and

grandchildren’s inheritance.

“It is currently a Stray for all people and a free source of pleasure and peace to anyone who cares to use it.

“Does Harrogate, or more to the point Harrogate’s people, actually want their precious Stray in almost constant use

by others? “

The public consultation on on modernising the Stray Act will run until Monday, February 6, 2017.

The public consultation is available to complete at www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact with printed copies also available at the council’s Crescent Gardens offices.

What do you think? We welcome your views.

Please contact us via the Harrogate Advertiser Facebook page, website or Twitter @HgateAdvertiser or by email to news@harrogateadvertiser.co.uk