The new letter from Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID), Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and Independent Harrogate is addressed to Coun Carl Les, the leader of North Yorkshire County Council, the transport authority leading the £10.9 million Government scheme to give priority in the Station Parade area to boost public transport usage, cycling and walking, improve the public realm and raise the attractiveness of the town centre for residents, businesses and visitors.
In the letter the three business groups, who oppose most of the Gateway project's major ideas on sustainable transport, ask the county council to clarify the emergence of the new report into the likely economic impact on Harrogate town centre of the proposals.
In addition, they ask that the vote due to take place on the subject next Tuesday by councillors on North Yorkshire County Council's executive is postponed.
The letter says:
"Following on from our previous letter, and the response from Coun MacKenzie who revealed an economic impact study had been undertaken and was included in the pack to the North Yorkshire County Council Executive, we feel compelled to write again in the strongest possible terms.
"The question of an economic impact study had been raised on a number of previous occasions, including at the Chamber’s meeting in October.
"Each time we were told there hadn’t been one, and in fact it would be carried after the work had been completed.
"Imagine our surprise when we were pointed in the direction of this 18-page paper, ‘made public’ just a week before you vote on what will change the face of Harrogate town centre for many years. In reality, this study should have been done more than a year ago.
"It is interesting to note that the study isn’t dated, and we would like to know when it was completed and why it was not actively promoted before the recommendation to give the Project the green light.
"Because of this lack of opportunity to comment on the economic impact study, we are now asking that the vote on the project is postponed until your next Executive meeting, allowing us, and others, time to digest its contents.
"However, having had a cursory glance through it, it appears the authors have looked to cities for case studies and not towns comparable to Harrogate.
"Also, they give examples from as along ago as 2007. The world has moved on a lot since then!
"It fails to take into account the impact of Covid, out-of-town shopping centres with acres of free parking, and online shopping.
"And again, we say what of those residents living in our surrounding villages whose only way of getting around is via their car, or the tens-of-thousands of visitors who live outside the district?
"It also appears the work to deliver this project could now creep into 2024. We were told it would take a year.
"Judging by the delays to ‘phase one of the Otley Road cycling path’, we have no confidence in your timescale.
"Does the economic impact study take into account the disruption delivering this project will have on businesses already on their knees through to the ongoing impact of Covid?
"As a successful businessman yourself, you must surely understand the concerns we have around this Project, the disruption delivering it will cause, and the fact we are yet to be convinced of the benefits we are told it will bring."
David Simister, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce
Sara Ferguson, chair of Harrogate BID
Robert Ogden, co-founder of Independent Harrogate
Coun Don Mackenzie, the county council’s executive member for transport, says the council had produced an 18-page report into the economic case after queries from Harrogate's business groups raised during public consultation on the project last year.
He added: “We want to encourage more people to travel by foot, bike and public transport because it is good for health and the environment by promoting fitness and reducing congestion,” said Coun Mackenzie.
“The spending will also provide a welcome boost for our town centres after two difficult years of trading during the pandemic.”
North Yorkshire County Council’s case for the £10.9 million Gateway project for the Station Parade area in Harrogate includes:
Economic benefits for the town centre outlined in its 18-page report “Harrogate Station Gateway Transforming Cities Fund Scheme Economic Case”;
Gateway is not solely about creating new cycle lanes, it will boost public transport usage and general connectivity, improve the public realm and raise the attractiveness of the town centre, creating a higher-quality environment for residents, businesses and visitors alike;
The county council says reducing Station Parade to one lane would only increase average car journey times in the area by 53 seconds or 1 minute 14 seconds with James Street fully pedestrianised.