Fierce debate expected when Harrogate relief road consultation opens in 2017
Consultation over the controversial, new multi-million relief road is set to begin in late 2017 with fierce debate expected over its location.
In September, a Relief Road Steering Group was set up to study and discuss four possible locations for the route in a bid ease congestion in Harrogate.
Out of the four highway options, the group has already stated its preferred route of an 'Inner Northern Relief Road' between Harrogate and Knaresborough.
The route would join the Southern Bypass at Thistle Hill but would also go through Nidd Gorge, Bilton Fields and the Greenway.
However, the proposal has raised considerable concerns with a number of nearby residents and interest groups including Bilton Conservation Group and the Woodland Trust.
Coun Val Rodgers (Ind, Bilton) was one of many to voice her opposition to the preferred route when the subject was discussed at the Harrogate Area Committee meeting on Thursday, November 17.
She said: "Many residents have expressed grave concerns to me about the proposed bypass. Since mid September I have received email, phone calls and home visits from worried residents.
"In fact, every time I step out of the door at least one resident approaches me with their concerns. Many say they are so worried they can't eat or sleep.
"These proposed routes go through people's homes, gardens and business premises. Do you not think that this will cause planning blights?
"I have yet to be convinced that a bypass or a relief road will help relieve the situation as the majority of traffic is locally generated. Is it just to open up the Bilton Triangle for development."
In their Strategic Transport Prospectus, North Yorkshire County Council stressed that a new bypass would be a "top priority", claiming the town's roads could not take any more traffic.
An attempt was already made in the 1990's to construct a Western and Northern Bypass but a determined and well-financed campaign of opposition by local residents put a stop to the plans.
However, early results have shown that an inner relief road would reduce town centre traffic by between 20 and 40 per cent but the county council stressed that every route option would be fully investigated.
During the meeting, Coun Michael Harrison, chairman of the Area Committee, assured members that this was merely the start of the process but many residents still took the opportunity to raise early concerns, worries and questions.
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Harrison said: "I recognise that this is a controversial subject, and the meeting was well attended by members of the public reflecting this.
“Some members of the public took the opportunity to ask a question or make a statement, and I hope everyone was reassured that the report presented was only to inform local County Council members about the start of work to look at relief road options.
"No final decisions on a route of a relief road, or even if a new relief road is the solution to traffic congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough, are being made yet.’’
The initial basic cost estimate for a relief road is around Â£70m - Â£100m and, should this proceed, the county council would need to make a bid to central government for this funding.
Preparations for the bid are said to be "extensive" but the county council are hoping to complete the first stage of the review and adopt a preferred alignment by the end of 2017.
Andrew Bainbridge, team leader for Transport Planning, said it was still premature to make any recommendations on the route and that the review may find no relief road is necessary.
He said: "If we are to go for central Government funding we will have to have considered all options. To rule any option out at this stage would be prejudicial to our long term work.
"The implications on the Greenway and Nidd Gorge will be considered. What needs to be done as part of this process is to balance the traffic relief benefits against the environmental impacts and on local people.
"That is a very difficult decision. Part of the reason this process takes so long is we do have to do detailed environmental assessment at various points in the year."
Despite this insistence, concerns were raised by members of the public on the preferred route's potential impact on the Nidd Gorge and Green Belt Buffer between Knaresborough and Bilton.
Keith Wilkinson, chairman of Bilton Conservation Group, said the proposals now threaten the work that thousands of volunteers have put in to conserving these areas
He said: "Public Appeals between 1984 and 1994 secured 125 acres of Nidd Gorge for the Woodland Trust and the public to enjoy in perpetuity, free from development.
"Thousands of volunteer hours have cleared tonnes of debris, created woodlands,maintained Footpaths and Bridleways to enhance this natural asset.
"The rich bio-diversity of Bilton Fields and Nidd Gorge, on the very edge of Bilton, cannot be over stated. Nidd Gorge is a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation and Bilton Fields feature in today’s Harrogate Town Plan as Special Landscape Area.
"These proposals threaten the last 34 years’ achievements and sandwich Bilton residents between an A59 to the west of them and a new A59 to the east."
A consultation is now expected to take place late next year before the county council takes any decision on the way forward with these plans.
Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for Highways, sits on the Steering Group alongside Coun Rebecca Burnett and Coun Harrison.
In his regular transport column in the Advertiser, Coun Mackenzie has warned that Harrogate is not building enough homes, leading to higher house prices.
However, any large-scale planning applications usually attract vast amounts of objections, with traffic a main drawback, and "substantial investment" is needed to reverse this.
"Harrogate has effectively to deal with 21st century levels of traffic with a mainly mid-20th century network of roads," Coun Mackenzie wrote.
"It was suggested that a bypass would not solve the town’s congestion problems because most of the traffic came from local journeys by our own residents and was not caused by vehicles on longer journeys past Harrogate. Recent traffic surveys suggest that was true."
Results of these surveys have shown that most traffic is generated within Harrogate and Knaresborough, not by motorists who have no desire or need to be there.
As a result, the steering group has argued that the term 'relief road' would be more appropriate as it would redistribute internal traffic and traffic from Harrogate to elsewhere.
Coun Mackenzie has said much more work is still required before actual routes can be identified but added that the public would be kept informed of progress.
He said: "The Area Committee meeting was part of a long, detailed process of keeping elected members and residents informed.
"This openness will continue with regular statements to the media and on the NYCC website.
"There will also be a formal public consultation as part of the review of a need for, and alignment of, a Harrogate relief road.’’