Respected Harrogate figure's plea to regenerate town centre with 'Town Team'

One of the most respected names in Harrogate's legal world has joined the debate on regenerating the town centre by calling for the creation of a 'Town Team' to take it away from what he describes as a 'knife edge.'

Friday, 19th June 2020, 4:12 pm
Harrogate town centre is on a knife edge, and there is a real risk that unless all stakeholders pull together and make pragmatic decisions it could fail" - Christopher Butterworth who spearheaded Harrogate legal firm Raworths for 50 years.

When one of the most respected figures in Harrogate life for several decades steps out of the shadows - and retirement - to make a plea for the town centre, people tend to stop and take notice.

From 1966 to 2017, Christopher Butterworth was a key figure at Raworths - the third generation of the Butterworth family to have headed the distinguished law firm which was established in 1887.

This week he has written to the Harrogate Advertiser warning the town centre was “on a knife edge” and offering a vision for bringing the different groups in Harrogate together to revive the town centre.

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Mr Butterworth wrote: “Harrogate town centre is on a knife edge, and there is a real risk that unless all stakeholders pull together and make pragmatic decisions it could fail.

"The Chancellor, when faced by the Covid-19 crisis immediately tore up the existing rule book and offered unprecedented financial support.

“The same radical approach is needed in Harrogate and the council’s present local ‘Masterplan’, which is based on regenerating the town as it was in 2014, needs to be radically changed to recognise the changed world we are now in.

“In the last five years online shopping has increased exponentially, we have had complete business shutdowns, climate change has accelerated up the agenda, leisure and cultural events have ceased, and too many major brands have left.

“There is no congestion in the town centre and, of fundamental importance, there is a desperate need for increased footfall to save the local town businesses on which everything held dear by residents and visitors relies.

“All sorts of people and organisations have put forward solutions, some more realistic than others, but none of them will work on its own.

“Independent Harrogate (IH), which is now the voice of over 200 town centre businesses, has been cast as a single issue ‘pressure group’ whose sole purpose is to get free parking in the town centre. "This is not correct and IH, in fact, has a far more nuanced approach to regenerating the town centre economy, with one strand being increasing economic activity by greater footfall.

"The other strand has been IH promoting the need for a 'Town Team' of all stakeholders’ pulling together in the same direction to regenerate the town centre.”

By way of disclosure, Mr Butterworth says he has linked to local pressure group Independent Harrogate but is not speaking for them.

He said: "My family has been linked for four generations by business or family in Harrogate to some of the founders of Independent Harrogate (IH), and because I have seen an urgent need to turn around the fortunes of Harrogate town centre I have been helping them since its inception.

"However, I do not speak for them."

Mr Butterworth is also floating ideas to improve the environment for shops and businesses in the town centre.

These include:

Our politicians immediately make the ‘brave’ decision to remove the cones in the town centre to let parking resume

The Local Authorities and MPs should actively support the introduction of green number plates for zero carbon vehicles

Rapidly, devise a new parking regime as a matter of urgency to allow free parking in the town centre for green plate vehicles; to increase ‘churn’ and be part of a medium/longer term removal of petrol/diesel vehicles in the town centre

Install well-designed cycle racks in the town centre

Encourage Harrogate BID and local businesses to introduce a system to offer to refund shoppers the cost of parking charges

Local Authorities should adopt a can-do, ‘do-what-it-takes’, attitude; abandoning their attachment to maximising parking charges, listen to local businesses, revisit existing plans and abandon them if necessary, and be an equal partner with others in a Town Team.

Mr Butterworth is keen not to be seen as being negative about the town he has played such a major role in.

He concludes: "Harrogate is a wonderful, if presently economically threatened, place.

There are lots of excellent ideas around, but they need to be woven into a workable whole to reverse the current downward trajectory.

"Harrogate’s success in the past was built on health giving waters, fresh air, a beautiful environment, high-quality shopping and tourism.

"This can happen again. However, this will need, common sense, compromise and co-operation, and everyone pulling together in the same direction.

"Let’s have a Town Team, with no one having an overriding voice – ASAP."

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