Harrogate may be gearing up for a greener future after the results of a major public consultation on traffic congestion were published this week.
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones says “the debate should be over” on the idea of a ‘Nidd Gorge’ relief road after the public overwhelmingly rejected it in the Harrogate Congestion Study commissioned by North Yorkshire County Council.
Any thoughts of a congestion charge also seemed to have been killed off by the results of the county council's public survey which received a phenomenal 15,000 responses.
But the man most associated with current efforts to solve Harrogate and Knaresborough’s traffic problems says “tough and possibly unpopular decisions” may be on the way thanks to the majority of responses supporting sustainable transport measures.
Revealed - 'Sea change' in Harrogate support for green transport
While delighted by the size of the response to the online public survey which ran from April to July, Coun Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for highways and passenger transport, said it left the council with some tricky issues to deal with.
Coun Mackenzie said: “I am very pleased with the level of response. I cannot recall any public consultation at county level attracting anywhere near this response rate.
“But there will be tough and possibly unpopular decisions to make and that is a message which I will send to my colleagues.”
Harrogate Congestion Study public consultation - measures with the strongest public support
On introducing a charge to drive into the centre of Harrogate, or increase parking charges, to reduce congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough, 65% disagreed or strongly disagreed.
78 per cent of respondents – some 12,000 people – opposed a road near the Nidd Gorge
Improving cycling and walking infrastructure (77 per cent)
Introducing park and ride facilities (71 per cent)
Encouraging smarter travel choices and behaviour change (75 per cent)
The introduction of bus lanes and priority for buses at junctions (59 per cent).
But a congestion charge or increased parking charges received little support, with 21% of respondents agreeing and 64 per cent disagreeing.
The report recommends work on a congestion charge is taken no further at this stage.
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Congestion - what will happen next? The report suggests several possible next steps:
Preparing “bid ready” cycling and walking routes so that funding opportunities can be seized as they arise
Assessing the feasibility of a package of park and ride sites and services
Working with bus operators to identify routes where priority measures could be granted to buses
Looking into new road links from the west of Harrogate to the A61 and a new link road from Killinghall
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones says he hopes the county council would now give up on the idea of a ‘Nidd Gorge’ relief road from Bilton to Forest Lane.
Mr Jones said: “The news that 78 per cent of respondents – some 12,000 people – oppose a road near the Nidd Gorge is welcome but not surprising.
“That debate should now be over. The more thought-provoking results from this comprehensive study are around the potential sustainable transport measures that could be introduced.”
The responses in the county council’s public survey have now been collated and analysed by North Yorkshire County Council officers in a report set to go to councillors for discussion next Thursday, August 29.
Speaking personally, Coun Mackenzie said he was happy that sustainable transport ideas had come out on top in the public consultation.
But, he added, new road options had to be included as options if the county council was to do its job properly and avoid a financial straitjacket in future plans for traffic congestion.
Coun Mackenzie said: “I note that a big majority of respondents favour measures to encourage the use of sustainable and public transport. I totally agree with this viewpoint.
“I accept that the inner relief road option has been overwhelmingly rejected. A new road option certainly had to be included in one of the two packages.
“Failure to do so would have left us open to the accusation that we had ignored the fact that many thousands of new homes have been built in Harrogate and Knaresborough without any extension to the highways infrastructure for 30 years.
"Furthermore, any future bid for funding for interventions to combat congestion will have to show evidence that all reasonable options were considered and consulted upon.
With a series of meetings with county councillors coming up in the next month, including the Harrogate and Knaresborough area meeting on August 29 at the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate next Thursday, measures to persuade residents to give up their cars may be on the agenda in the future.
Coun Mackenzie said: “I will be interested to hear what my elected member colleagues make of these engagement results.
“Will they think that investing more of taxpayers’ money in sustainable measures is enough, or do they believe that travel choices need also to be influenced by measures to persuade people out of their cars - like, for example, higher parking charges, lower speed limits, more pedestrianisation and the like?”