Harrogate Christmas Market latest: No festive peace in sight plus what town's MP thinks
Feathers have been well and truly ruffled by Harrogate Borough Council’s decision to opt for new organisers and a different location for Harrogate Christmas Market. Graham Chalmers reports on the latest situation.
The original organisers of Harrogate’s Christmas Market have accused the borough council of bringing its “own agenda” into a row over the event’s future.
Brian Dunsby, who helped create the traditional market on Montpellier Hill in 2012, made the claim after being refused a licence by the council which has now begun talks with a Manchester-based firm over bringing a new event to the town this December.
Mr Dunsby said in a statement: “We have tried to engage with Harrogate Borough Council in positive discussions, but in recent weeks it has become clear that they have their own agenda.
"This has now been revealed. Despite Brexit, their new market will provide only 45 stalls mostly from European countries. Local traders will probably not get much of a look in.”
The criticism comes in the same week Harrogate Borough Council found itself under fire for its handling of another public event on the Stray.
News that the traditional Bank Holiday Fun Fair would not be taking place led organiser to claim the council had raised the fees for using the Stray to an unfair degree.
Harrogate Lib Dem council leader Pat Marsh also waded in, saying: “Why couldn’t the council be more supportive? After the year we have had Harrogate could end up with a reputation of not welcoming and not being supportive of special events.”
Harrogate Borough Council was quick to hit back at the claims, saying they had had no contact with the fun fair’s organisers for months.
“The council have not had any contact from the organisers concerning the fun fair since April this year meaning it is now too late for them to submit an event plan for the coming weekend,” said the spokesperson.
“We have a daily price for commercial events on the Stray and would then look to negotiate with the organisers if we could agree a multi-year contract which is where we got to with the fairground in April and then they did not come back to us again.
“If they contact us directly we are more than happy to discuss arrangements for future years”.
But the row over the fun fair is unlikely to overshadow the grumbling over the fate of Harrogate Christmas Market.
Last week, Manchester-based firm Market Place Europe announced it had begun talks with Harrogate council over a new nine-day festive event at an undetermined location in the town centre from December 3 -12.
This was after the council said it had refused to licence the Montpellier Hill event because it had “outgrown what can be safely delivered” at that location in terms of security and Covid risks.
The council also said an event management plan from Mr Dunsby and colleagues “did not fully take into account” the risk of overcrowding, evacuation procedures, counter-terrorism measures and the ongoing risk of Covid.
Mr Dunsby said he was left “extremely saddened” by the decision which he added was made despite his best efforts to resolve the issues.
He said: “We realise that the council leaders want us to relocate elsewhere but we cannot find anywhere else suitable - and there is insufficient time to rearrange the large number of details involved.
“We have 172 market traders applications waiting for acceptance whilst there are already 55 coaches planning to come to Harrogate during the market.”
Mr Dunsby added: “We have been pleased to provide Harrogate with a successful Christmas Market for eight years, with local traders, local products and supporting many local charities.
“Over the past five years we have contributed more than £90,000 to local charities and similar organisations. The peak attendance was over 85,000 visitors one year.
“We want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement in the past. We are extremely saddened at this unfortunate outcome.”
Council leader Richard Cooper said Mr Dunsby was welcome to submit revised plans in the future if he so wished.
He said: “I’d like to thank Mr Dunsby and his team for all they have done over the years. I’m sorry they couldn’t make it work in their favoured location this time.
“The door is open for them to work with the borough council, and business groups, to ensure a safe and enjoyable event in the future.”
Coun Cooper added: “There is though going to be a brilliant Christmas market in Harrogate town centre this year and we welcome a suitable event management plan from the new organisers.
“The market will hopefully run alongside a variety of Christmas-themed events in December and we looking forward to welcoming visitors from far afield as well as locally for a magical festive experience.”
Meanwhile, Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones paid tribute to the “incredible efforts” over the years of the organisers of Harrogate Christmas Market on Montpellier Hill but said the best interests of the town and its traders were paramount.
Mr Jones said: “I think it is only right to recognise organisers’ incredible efforts over eight years to build an event which has grown year-on-year to the point where an incredible 85,000 people could be expected.
“But there have clearly been issues with the Montpellier Hill location this year.
“Retailers contacting me simply want to make sure there is a safe and quality Christmas market in Harrogate.
“They are not too interested in the wrangling over the exact location.
“I want to see efforts to bring people into our area at Christmas.
“Putting the past in the past, I am pleased that a commitment remains from the council to pick up the problem and sort it by speaking to other Christmas Market organisers.”
But some readers of the Harrogate Advertiser said they were concerned at the nature of the new festive event which will reportedly take place in December.
Harrogate resident Catherine Alderson wrote: “Harrogate Christmas Market has always had UK stallholders.
“Many are local to Yorkshire selling locally-made products and produce making it more eco-friendly.
“Do we really need another European-style Christmas market when Leeds already holds one in conjunction with Frankfurt City Council?”
Another Harrogate resident David Wise, who volunteered at the market, condemned Harrogate council for what he said was its “shameful decision over the market.”
He wrote: “Working as a volunteer steward at the market for a number of years, I was often told by the traders how well organised and valuable the market was for them.
“I was amazed at the wide range of visitors enjoying the Christmas atmosphere and often unique and different stalls.”