Past planning has had such a considerable impact on our lives that it is interesting to consider how things might have turned out if decisions had gone a different way, or if the public had been more vocal.

Take, for example, the failure of the residents of Bilton-with- Harrogate to speak out against the loss of their river Nidd boundary, when the Royal Forest was enclosed in 1778. Had they put up more of a fight during the enquiry stage, when the Duchy surveyors went out of their way to gather public opinion, all the land between High Harrogate and the Nidd would have remained with the bounds of the township.

As it happened, the spurious claims of the Knaresborough farmers who cultivated Belmont Fields were the only claims received by the surveyors. Consequently, Starbeck and Belmont were awarded to Knaresborough. Had the boundary between Harrogate and Knaresborough remained the river Nidd, today, people would be discussing the pros and cons of building new houses between Boggs Lane and the Nidd, instead of Killinghall.

Similar neglect of their interests meant that the few residents around the decayed but once-celebrated Starbeck Spa failed to bring its significance to the attention of the surveyors. Had they done so, then the Duchy’s policy of incorporating all the then known mineral wells in the Stray would have meant that the Stray slips, instead of ending where, one 150 years later, the general hospital would be built, would have run down into Starbeck and surrounded all the mineral wells. The value of the surrounding land would have increased phenomenally, and would have been retained by the Duchy for the kind of development which in Harrogate occurred round the old sulphur well.

Then there was the 1845 plan of the railway company to bring its line into central Harrogate, with the main railway station sited exactly opposite today’s Betty’s. This week’s illustration, which dates from about 1858, shows central Harrogate, with the planned railway line indicated by the dark line from bottom left up to the centre, with the terminus indicated by a green dot. The small rectangle above the dot is Hopewell House, the site of today’s Betty’s. At left may be seen the terrace of buildings next to the Prospect (today Yorkshire) Hotel, and Baker Lane is now Kings Road. Had this line and terminus been built, it would have ruined the 1860 plans of the Victoria Park Company to link the two Harrogates into a single town. It would have meant no James or Cambridge Streets, no Cambridge or Prospect Crescents, no St. Peter’s Church. Fortunately, the plan was abandoned.

Yet the eventual introduction of a line from Dragon Junction meant that Joshua Bower’s plan to build expensive villas in what is now Dragon Road, had also to be abandoned. I hope there are none in Harrogate who think that planning is less important today than 200 years ago. Talk about vast housing developments at Killinghall or Beckwith Head Road may suddenly and understandably animate the people who feel affected, and prompt them to rush out and join a pressure group for a while. But planning and its consequences are with us all the time.

This is why I believe that every Harrogate resident should join the Harrogate Civic Society, and remain life members. Its committee is elected by the members, who are drawn from across our entire district. Although I am not a member of its committee, I was many years ago, and recall that when the society’s precursor, the Harrogate Society, warned residents of preparations for some great change in their locality, membership soared. But then, after the threat had either been implemented or stopped, the members drifted away. This would be in order if the threats stopped coming, but the nature of things is that they never do.

A life-time’s experience has taught me that public opinion often needs to be focussed, if it is to be effective, and that our nation’s civic societies are an essential safeguard against occasionally unreasonable plans from various sources. Which is why readers who are not members of the non-political volunteers that are the Harrogate Civic Society should make a point of joining. Had it been around in 1778, I suggest that the Great Award would have been much better.