Council defends its decision over Harrogate Christmas Market

Harrogate Borough Council has defended its decision to oppose having this year's Christmas Market in the Stray at Montpellier Hill saying it has been working with organisers but all the anti-terrorism and Covid safety advice was against it.

Friday, 30th July 2021, 1:06 pm
Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Cooper said the decision was made to protect people's lives on the basis of what the emergency services told the council.

The comments by council leader Coun Richard Cooper follow a negative reaction from the organisers behind the hugely successful annual event which attracts tens of thousands of visitors to that part of town.

Event organiser Brian Dunsby said the announcement came as a surprise to him and that he would be lodging an appeal.

He said: "We are extremely disappointed with this lack of consideration and communication by the council.

"The team have been working hard to make sure this event can happen and it was only last Wednesday when we met with the council. Before this, we had submitted our complete event plan on 5 May - the council came back with a few questions and we covered all of those issues.

"I'm very determined to try make sure this event can still go ahead but there is no other location in Harrogate which serves the purpose of attracting people into the town centre.

"If it doesn't go ahead, it is not us who will have cancelled the markets, it is the council."

But Coun Cooper said the decision was made to protect people's lives on the basis of what the emergency services told the council and the council had been happy to discuss alternatives.

Organisers were welcome to look at different sites for the Christmas Market but, he added, they had refused to do so.

Coun Cooper said: "We knew our decision was going to spark a lot of questions, as Christmas is such an emotive subject.

“And I realise some people are disappointed with the decision not to grant a licence at this location.

"Although ultimately the decision belongs to the council, all the evidence which is put together to enable us to make that decision comes from partners and stakeholders like North Yorkshire Police, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, etc.

"If the feedback from them is that they have concerns about safety then we have little choice but to decline a licence. If we allowed the event organisers to ignore those concerns, licenced them to press ahead and, God forbid, there was an incident of some kind I know exactly what would happen.

“Understandably, the cry would go up: "Why didn't you listen to what the police said? Why did you ignore the overcrowding? Why did you think you knew best?"

"The lesson here is to organise early, address safety concerns as they are raised, understand that simply because you have booked stalls and coaches doesn't mean that you will automatically be allowed a licence if you don't get clearance from the necessary authorities and not to think that trying to galvanise public opinion to put pressure on the council will change the decision. It won't.

“The decision is made to protect people's lives on the basis of what the emergency services tell us.

"A number of people of asked; “why haven’t we worked with the event organiser to allow it to continue?” I can assure you, we have.

"We have had ongoing conversations to encourage them to address the concerns over a number of years, and it recognised that progress has been made. However, significant concerns remain and as the event organiser isn’t willing to address these, then we simply cannot grant a licence for this location.

“For several years, including this year, we have suggested other locations to the event organiser but these have been refused. If they wish to continue these discussion then I advise they get in touch.

"But the safety of residents, traders and visitors must come first."

The Stray Defence Association, the community charity which works to protect The Stray, told the Harrogate Advertiser is had not been consulted or asked for any input by Harrogate council about the Christmas Market.

But the SDA offered its commiserations to the Christmas Market organisers who, it added, must be hugely disappointed to have already done such an enormous amount of work towards this year’s planned event.