New dilemmas of Harrogate's controversial Gateway project with final decision only weeks away

It was meant, in part, to benefit businesses but now the £10.9 million plan to improve Harrogate town centre is under fire from that very business community. But the dilemmas of the Gateway project have grown as a final decision looms on Harrogate's biggest-ever sustainable transport scheme.

Friday, 24th December 2021, 10:46 am
Updated Friday, 24th December 2021, 10:57 am
North Yorkshire County Council has said it will take all comments made during the recent consultation about Harrogate Gateway project into account in producing the final recommendations.

When the ten members of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive meet in the New Year to make a final decision on the £10.9million Harrogate Gateway project they must do so in the knowledge that all three of the town’s leading business groups are opposed to most of its key measures.

The Government-funded sustainable transport scheme may have been devised to create a better world for businesses - and non-car users - in Harrogate’s Station Parade area but its businesses themselves are now calling for the whole process to be paused.

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Reacting to the results of the latest consultation on Gateway - showing for the first time since the saga began nearly three years ago that a majority of the respondents were against the plans - a joint-statement was issued by Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, Harrogate BID and Independent Harrogate with a blunt message - it’s time to put the brakes on the Gateway project.

A spokesperson said: “In the summer we conducted our own poll and the majority of those who responded were against reducing the A61 from Cheltenham Parade to Station Bridge to a single carriageway, and pedestrianising James Street.

“At last month’s Harrogate Chamber of Commerce meeting, an overwhelming number of those present were not in favour of the proposals.

“We ask the county council to put the brakes on this scheme, take into account our views, and come back with a revised plan that the majority of business and the public will wholeheartedly support.”

The four-week consultation period launched in October, showed a majority of 55% to 45% of the 1,320 people who completed the online survey on the Gateway are now against the designs for the Government-funded scheme.

Harrogate business leaders continue to insist they are not hostile to Gateway per se, just certain elements involving partial pedestrianisations and a shift in priority in road space away from car users and towards cyclists, pedestrians and public transport.

In their eyes, their objections have been consistently ignored despite a lengthy consultation process conducted over the last few years by North Yorkshire County Council, the project’s main sponsors.

The joint-statement issued by Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, Harrogate BID and Independent Harrogate said: “Despite concerns raised by businesses, Harrogate Civic Society and residents who will be directly affected by the proposed scheme, it appears to be full steam ahead on Gateway.

“As we have said on many previous occasions, we welcome investment in the town centre and encourage ‘active transport’.

“We put forward a number of alternative suggestions regarding the cycle lanes, James Street and the A61 during the first round of consultation, which have been disregarded.

“Negative comments are also ignored, and it appears so, too, are the results of the latest survey, where 55% of the 1,302 who participated felt ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’ towards Gateway.”

Harrogate business leaders argue that, with Covid still undermining business and the Omicron variant presenting a new worry, now is not the time to press ahead.

Instead, the process should be halted until the county council can return with a plan which can find some middle ground - something that everyone can agree on.

The dilemma for supporters of Gateway who see changes to the town centre as essential to supporting bricks and mortar businesses against online shopping, as well as meeting carbon reduction targets, is such a move would, in reality, threaten the entire £10.9 million project.

Schemes funded through the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund need to fit specific criteria on sustainable transport and be delivered by March 2023 or lose the money.

It’s a tight timetable which envisages construction work beginning in Harrogate town centre in 2022.

North Yorkshire County Council has said it will take all comments made during the recent consultation into account in producing the final recommendations.

But the county council has also indicated that no one should expect major changes to a project which was granted a lot of Government money to transform the town centre rather than tinker.

Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for transport, said: “The Transforming Cities Fund investment is expressly to promote active, sustainable travel, so must be used for that purpose.

“While doing so, we are taking the opportunity to improve the public realm to give a better experience to people shopping and working in the centre.

“Our Transforming Cities Fund team will now prepare a report for the County Council’s executive and present final plans for approval probably next month, but certainly early in the New Year.”

What is Harrogate Gateway project and what are its aims?

In March 2020, it was announced that the Leeds City Region (LCR) had won £317 million of investment from the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund.

As part of the successful bid, North Yorkshire County Council won £10.9m to support the regeneration of the Station Parade area of the town by improving sustainable transport infrastructure, as per the brief set by the Transforming Cities Fund .

North Yorkshire County Council, Harrogate Borough Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority are now working together to deliver the Harrogate Station Gateway’ scheme.

The current proposals were developed after a study undertaken in 2019 by Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council into the idea of a new inner relief road within Harrogate showed public support for alternative measures to improve facilities for walking, cycling and public transport.

The stated aims of the Harrogate Gateway project are:

Improve the walking and cycling links to Harrogate bus and railway stations and the town centre;

Increase the number of people travelling to or from Harrogate Station, and in and around Harrogate town centre, by environmentally friendly transport (bus, on foot and by bike);

Positively enhance the sense of place within the town centre and create a higher quality environment for visitors, residents and nature;

Reduce the dominance of cars and lower traffic speeds to create a safer, more appealing environment for people walking and cycling. This will also decrease noise and pollution levels;

Enhance accessibility for people with disabilities by improving surfaces, reducing obstacles and providing more space;

Create an environment that promotes social interaction and encourages people to stay and spend time here, through street furniture, smart technology and space for events/activities;

Enhance and promote the identity of Harrogate - harnessing its spa history and strong existing sense of place.

Harrogate Gateway Project: What the public said in recent consultation

Members of the public who completed the latest online survey on the Harrogate Gateway project were invited to give their comments as well as filling in the question boxes.

The anonymity of all respondents was retained in the new report produced by North Yorkshire County Council into the results of the consultation.

Among the comments submitted were...

Supporters of Harrogate Gateway project:

“These ideas are fantastic and it will make the town a much more attractive place to shop, live and work. One thing missing is the lack of trees. I would like to see more tree planting.

“It will make a statement that Harrogate is forward looking and is taking steps to improve the environment and public health.”

“I think you could have gone further. I’m in favour of full pedestrianisation of James Street and I think it’s a cop out that this isn’t being done.”

“It’s a first step to addressing climate change and the impact from motor transport.”

Opponents of Harrogate Gateway project:

“It will massively increase congestion, cause tail backs when coming into work/ school, no space for an ambulance to get through such traffic, and not everyone lives in Harrogate so for plenty of people buses and cycling are simply not an option, as this is a rural area.

“When people are sat in even bigger traffic jams than we currently experience, having been funnelled into one lane, pollution will be much worse as people will be constantly on their clutch in stop-start traffic.”

“The reduction in the two lanes on Station Parade is bound to increase journey times, congestion, and thus increase pollution, as well as making the town much less attractive to visit.

"I suspect Ripon Road, Parliament Street and most of Cheltenham and Station Parade will be a virtual nose to tail standstill, of cars, buses, taxis and vans all belching out fumes.”

“There will be a massive increase in traffic and pollution on the residential area of Granville Road since GPS systems will send anyone reaching the one-way portion of Cheltenham Mount up Mount Parade and down Granville Road or Back Granville Road.”