Amid talks of legal threats and growing opposition to the £10.9 million scheme to bring more cycling lanes and pedestrianisation, the project’s sponsors at North Yorkshire County Council are about to hold a third public consultation on the plan.
But the leaders of Harrogate’s three main business groups say time has now run out for Gateway to find any sort of consensus in its current guise.
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Not only are they firmly opposed to the project’s key components, they are now largely in agreement on what should replace them.
Common threads in the stance of the Chamber, Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) and Independent Harrogate on the future of the town centre include:
Five ways of improving Harrogate town centre - by Harrogate businesses
1. A new set of park and rides
2. The return of two-way traffic on Parliament Street
3. More electric charging points for cars
4. Better public transport
5. A new cycle lane on East Parade
Sue Kramer, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce president, said: “My major concern about the Harrogate Station Gateway Project is reducing Station Parade to a single carriageway to accommodate two cycle lanes.
“I would still like to see them created on East Parade. I’d really like to see the Chamber build stronger relationships and work collaboratively with Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and local cycling groups.”
The fundamental faultlines between Harrogate business world and supporters of sustainable transport proposals – which aim to help business, as well as tackling road congestion and cutting the town’s carbon emissions – is built on two principles:
Gateway will not reduce traffic in the town centre.
A focus exclusively on non-car travel will undermine the fragile state of Harrogate’s high street.
Instead, business leaders want to see policies which meet the interests of everyone venturing into the town centre - walkers, drivers, cyclists, the disabled, commuters, tourists and general visitors.
Sara Ferguson chair of Harrogate BID, the business-funded organisation dedicated to supporting footfall for town centre traders, said: “I would have liked our suggestions for the Harrogate Station Gateway Project, in particular East Parade for the cycle lanes, to have been adopted.
“A Park and Ride system is a definite aspiration and one that would bring plenty of benefits.
“I also believe better signage to the town centre off-street car parks would also make a big difference and encourage more people to use them."
Harrogate BID manager, Matthew Chapman said there were different ways to achieve the same objective.
“A stronger, more reliable public transport offering that is cost effective is essential if we are serious about encouraging those taking short journeys to leave the car at home, and a genuine Park & Ride, like the ones in York and Leeds, should be a priority,” said Mr Chapman.
“Harrogate BID is looking at incentives to encourage people to partake in ‘active travel’ alternatives, and we are in dialogue with a number of organisations as to how this can be achieved.”
Gateway opponents’ long-held view that the county council is in thrall to Harrogate’s cycling lobby appears to have been undermined by recent developments which have seen one initiative after another subject to delay or defeat.
Kevin Douglas, chair of Harrogate District Cycle Action, said Harrogate’s track record on delivering sustainable transport schemes “wasn’t good”.
“The Knaresborough Road scheme hasn’t been delivered, Victoria Avenue hasn’t been delivered, the Otley Road cycle path hasn’t been delivered, as well as the plans for Oatlands Drive - they are all a way off,” Mr Douglas said.
“The Oatlands Drive plans originally included a one-way traffic system, but this was scrapped last year after a backlash from residents who warned the changes would be “disastrous”. I could go on.”
Harrogate’s business leaders believe there are ways of improving the town centre outside the Gateway proposals.
Their aim is to forge a new and different consensus based on their new ideas.
Harrogate BID points to York which is to trial new delivery hubs outside the city centre to reduce the amount of heavy vehicles by carrying goods the last mile on bikes and on foot.
Working together is the key to progress, says Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce.
“We may not always share the same opinions, due to looking at things from different perspectives,” said its president Sue Kramer.
“But open, respectful dialogue to understand these differences and come to a consensus would be a major step forward.”
An alternative to Harrogate Gateway project: What Independent Harrogate thinks
Since it first formed in 2020 as a loose affiliation of more than 100 businesses, Independent Harrogate says it stands for only one thing - traders’ interests.
So when it was the first group to take against the Harrogate Gateway project, it did so with the following questions in mind: will it boost footfall, will it make the town centre a more attractive place to visit, shop and dine, will it boost trading?
To that it says ‘no’ but adds it believes it is possible to go green and ease congestion without punishing drivers, undermining traders or pedestrianising James Street.
A spokesperson said: “We don’t want to deter those arriving by car, we want to encourage them, in particular those in clean, electric cars. And we car charging points, on street and in car parks.
“We’d like to see current pedestrianised areas of Oxford Street and Cambridge Street significantly enhanced.
"Harrogate is not any other town, it has always been known for its excellent shops, tea rooms and floral displays.
"We can start with replacing the existing surfacing and street furniture with quality paving, seating and floral displays.
"Ultimately, we’d like our elected representatives to listen to us when it comes to decisions that affect our livelihoods.”
As for the county council’s forthcoming new public cconsultation on Gateway, Independent Harrogate believes it would be far better to have a public meeting of all sides with an open and free discussion.