Disappoinment has been expressed at a decision by North Yorkshire Couny Council to refuse to rule out a multi-million pound relief road in Bilton just over a week after Harrogate councillors voted overwhelmingly against it.
That vote to reject package E (new roads and some sustainable transport) and support packages B (22 sustainable transport measures) took place two weeks ago in a stormy meeting at the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate to discuss a 400-page congestion measures report commissioned by NYCC .
But at a meeting on Friday in Northallerton, David Bowe, the county council’s Corporate Director for Business and Environmental Services, and two BES executive members, Coun Andrew Lee and Coun Don MacKenzie, decided that new studies should go ahead into both packages.
The decision means a controversial inner relief road from Bilton Lane through the area of wooded beauty spot Nidd Gorge is still a possibility and public consultation on the matter will be delayed now by six months.
Harrogate Advertiser Guide to the state of play over possible Harrogate/Knaresborough relief road and congestion measures:
What happens next? North Yorkshire County Council says it has decided:
to further develop the sustainable transport elements of both Packages B and E to identify the potential locations and impacts of the different measures
to further develop the alignments of the Inner Relief Road to help identify the potential benefits and impacts (including on the Nidd Gorge and Nidderdale Greenway)
to prepare an initial economic analysis (BCR) for the Inner Relief Road
to undertake pre-consultation engagement with local businesses and representative groups through an Harrogate Congestion Engagement Group
to take a further report on both packages B and E to the Area Committee prior to deciding on the future consultation options.
Details of any alternative options considered and rejected:
1. To consult as originally proposed on both Package B and Package E whilst noting the views and recommendations of the Area Committee.
2. To agree in principle with the recommendations of the Area Committee and request that officers investigate the costs and timescales of any necessary further work to develop Package B - and assess the potential implications of discounting package E at this early stage on the future Transport Business Case and the potential for it to attract the necessary funding.
What Harrogate Borough Council's leader thinks:
HBC leader, Coun Richard Cooper, Harrogate Central Division, said:
"We asked that North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) look at solving congestion and it is good that they are doing this. We have ensured that sustainable transport measures have equal billing with road building projects.
"And this is right because the consultant's study shows that 93 per cent of journeys begin or end in Harrogate or are within Harrogate itself. A bypass will do nothing to address this.
"So now we all have a responsibility to put forward sustainable transport measures and the Borough Council will play a constructive and positive role in this regard. But these measures may not be popular - sustainable transport should never be seen as an easy option.
"I think we know that the public do not want a relief road through the Nidd Gorge although others will disagree with my analysis. If they then do not want the sustainable transport measures which are now to be worked on then it is difficult to know what other options there are."
What Coun Don MacKenzie, Harrogate Saltergate division, one of the three Business and Environmental Services, executives from North Yorkshire County Council who made the decision on Friday, thinks:
"Let us not lose sight of the fact that the objectors to the inclusion of an inner relief road option, largely but not exclusively living in the Bilton area, do not want option E to go forward for public consultation in view of the risk, as they perceive it, that many respondents will support greater work on that option.
"I can understand that very well.
"On the other hand, I cannot agree with their claim that any such relief road routing will destroy the Nidderdale Greenway and the Nidd Gorge. That would not happen. That is why any petition "to save the Greenway and Nidd Gorge" is flawed.
"I do not understand why many members of the Area Committee were unwilling to ask the 100,000 residents of the Harrogate Urban Area what they think of the two options.
"A few days later they agreed to put out to consultation a draft Local Plan setting out proposals to build some 14,000 new homes over the next 20 years.
"This Plan contains proposals which are deeply unpopular with certain communities, but they agreed to the consultation in order to find out what their electors think.
"Of course, option B with its mixture of improvements to public and sustainable transport, upgrades to urban realms and encouragement of behavioural change sounds very attractive and relatively painless. Let's see what residents think when parking charges have to rise by 100-200% to force residents out of their cars and on to bikes and buses.
"The choice of transport of most of the supporters of option B only who gathered at the Cairn Hotel on 7 December was the car, leading to congestion in the hotel car park and guests being blocked in. It shows that we have a very long way to go to change travel behaviour.
"I cannot see the harm in putting both options out for public consultation. Perhaps there will be overwhelming support for discounting any relief road option, and that option B will be sufficient to deal with the current congestion on our roads and also with the additional traffic which is likely to be caused by the 14,000 new homes referred to above.
"Ultimately, should it go that far, any relief road would require large amounts of Government funding.
"The Government are not going to give us that money if we cannot prove the benefits of a relief road to them. Neither will the County Council continue to spend money on developing the case for a relief road should the evidence show that it cannot be justified.
"To ditch a relief road now is premature but if ultimately it can’t be justified we will ditch it at the earliest justifiable opportunity."
What residents and groups for sustainable transport measures but against a relief road in Bilton and NIdd Gorge think:
Jemima Parker, chair of Zero Carbon Harrogate said:
"We are delighted that NYCC will be asking their transport consultants, WSP, to conduct further scoping over the next 6 months into the 22 sustainable transport interventions in Package B.
"This will give local residents and businesses a better idea why these steps scored so highly in the report as effective means of reducing traffic congestion and how they could improve our local journeys and air quality, and be good for business.
"However, it is very disappointing that the BES committee have decided to also take the “relief road”, included in package E, forward as not only would it be disproportionately expensive, the WSP report shows clearly that is will not help meet NYCC’s own objectives of traffic relief, economic development and improving the local environment.
"At the meeting it was claimed that in order to meet Department of Transport guidelines to access funding the NYCC needed to include all the options, including a road, all the way to the public consultation stage.
"However, 14 possible interventions have already been discarded, including park and ride and dedicated bus lanes. Package A has also been castoff, when it had a very similar score to Package E on the 19 metrics against which they were evaluated, (12 first and seconds for A as opposed to 13 for E).
"Zero Carbon Harrogate have offered to work with NYCC and WSP to provide informed advise on local sustainable transport opportunities, applying creative low emissions solutions that are already being enjoyed in other towns and cities both in the UK and abroad."
Chris Kitson of Nidd Gorge Community Action said:
"Last Friday, at the meeting of the BES Executive in Northallerton - where three people, in positions of unaccountability to the Harrogate public, overruled our fourteen democratically elected and locally accountable county councillors, to keep the destructive road on the table - Councillor Mackenzie astonishingly stated that “I am not wedded to a road”.
"The evidence would suggest otherwise:
"Take a look at the NYCC Strategic Transport Prospectus, that Coun Makenzie co-authored, and you see that a Harrogate Relief Road/A59 Bypass is a strategic priority for improved east-west connectivity.
"He certainly seems wedded to a road in this document, where his photograph adorns page 2.
"Despite what he says to the contrary, it is obvious he is hellbent on a road. How else is he going to deliver strategic A59 east-west connectivity improvements for NYCC and fulfill the demands of The Chamber – a lone voice of support for the Nidd Gorge road at the Harrogate Area Committee?
"What is the point of the Harrogate Area Committee if they can be so blatantly ignored by an unaccountable and distant Business and Environmental Services Executive in Northallerton?
" I believe he has calculated that if he could only get the road to the public consultation stage, then enough of the 48,000 Harrogate households would vote for his simplistic 1980’s solution to congestion relief; unaffected as they’ll be, living miles away from any of the disastrous social and environmental effects of the Nidd Gorge development road.
A functioning, effective democracy should not allow the opinions of the uninformed and unaffected to condemn some of our communities to social and environmental destruction, whilst the voice of the informed and affected is ignored and overruled. "
What 'green' groups are worried about in how North Yorkshire County Council is handling the issue:
1. Department of Transport rules/financing congestion measures
North Yorkshire County Council's expressed fear is that if they give up on a relief road option now, they will not have met the rules or be eligible for receiving crucial financial support from central government for any future congestion measures
Groups pushing for sustainable transport measures rather than a relief road argue that the mammoth study by leading transport consultancy WSP already commissioned at some expense by NYCC meets Department of Transport.
At Friday's meeting Rod Bearshall of Nidd Gorge Community Action said: "My interpretation of both the 'WebTAG' rules adn the 'Transport Business Case' rules is that the stakeholder engagement and wide ranging review carried out so thoroughly in the WSP study will be sufficient to meet the requirements of these guidelines.
Coun Don MacKenzie's reply:
"The Government's guidance is clear that realistic options should be included or discounted based on evidence. At this point there is insufficient evidence available to discount a relief road option.
"The views of the Area Committee and the public who attended the meeting are a part of that evidence but more work does need to be done to investigate the relief road in more detail before it can be included or discounted. If we discount a relief road without sufficient evidence it will weaken the case to Government for funding of other options. Let us not forget that bidding for funding of infrastructure improvements is a very competitive business. Every area of the country is looking for infrastructure investment."
2. Evaluating relative strengths of different 'packages'
The various groups and individuals against an inner relief road at Bilton also argue that the scoring system used in the NYCC-commissioned study to evaluate each of the packages is incorrect, making Package E which contaisn the Bilton relief road option appear better than it is.
Coun Don MacKenzie's reply:
"The Options Assessment Report makes very clear that EAST is not a scoring system but a means of summarising information to decision makers.
"It also specifically states (on page 30) that scores should not be added up as there is no weighting applied to the scores and different scores may be more important than others. The aim of EAST is NOT to rank the packages but to help identify the better performing packages and allow the poorer performing packages to be discounted."
3. Reflecting public opinion
The establishment by NYCC of a wider engagement group while the more detailed study is under way, bringing in more organisations and businesses, to feed back to the steering group, will be weighted to business opiniob overpublic opinion.
Coun Don MacKenzie's reply:
"The terms of reference and membership of the Engagement Group have yet to be established so I don’t know how the objectors to the Relief Road can make this statement. Notwithstanding the final membership of the group the intention of the County Council is and always has been to consult with all of the population of Harrogate and Knaresborough and all transport users hence the planned delivery to 48,000 households. "