North Yorkshire County is to keep all its options open on tackling Harrogate’s traffic congestion despite the strength of feeling against a possible Nidd Gorge relief road among local councillors and residents at a meeting last week.
The majority of local county councillors at the meeting ar the Cairn Hotel echoed the sentiments of Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, newly-appointed junior minister for transport, who said on the eve of the meeting on the Harrogate Congestion Study that such a relief road would not solve Harrogate’s problems and that the Nidd Gorge and the Bilton greenway should be protected.
But county councillor and executive member for highways and passenger transport Don Mackenzie, said at the Harrogate and Knaresborough Area Constituency Committee meeting he was “happy to go forward with both congestion packages” to public consultation.
He said that within his Harrogate Saltergate division constituents often quizzed him about the growing number of homes being built and how the accompanying congestion would be handled.
“They are concerned, with all of these houses being built, what we are going to do about congestion,” he revealed.
Progressing to public consultation would, he said, enable the council to “get the views of everyone and not the select few” who spoke during the meeting.
Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper, who was at the forefront of a vote last year which saw councillors reject the relief road proposal, reiterated his position, saying he couldn’t support a proposal that could potentially cut through Harrogate golf club, Nidd Gorge and private residences.
Coun Cooper said: “Can I seriously raise my hand to the people and say I’m voting for that?” he said. He suggested that North Yorkshire County Council drop the relief road proposal if they wanted to move into public consultation, given that the “vast majority” of public voices wouldn’t change in their opposition to the road.
“I want to save the county council money because I can tell you what the answer is right now,” he said.
Instead, he said that the report’s proposal of sustainable management of Harrogate’s congestion could be tackled – but warned that it wouldn’t be easy.
Residents groups given the chance to speak at the Cairn Hotel, expressed concern that North Yorkshire County Council’s real intention in forwarding all options to possible public consulation was to create a bypass as part of national plans to improve road transport in the north, rather than solving Harrogate and Knaresborough’s traffic issues.
Resident Keith Broad asked whether WSP, the civil engineering consultants contracted by the county council, were being asked to find the best route to build a bypass around Harrogate or the best way to relieve congestion when they also built roads themselves?
Andrew Bainbridge, the county council’s team leader for transport planning and highways, said that the company weren’t builders.
He said: “WSP’s brief is to look at ways of relieving traffic congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough and not specifically to look at routes for a bypass.
“WSP have a vast experience of all aspects of transport planning and engineering and are regarded as one of the leading sustainable transport consultancies in the country. They also have a large and well respected environment, sustainability and ecology team. They are not, as has been suggested, highway builders.”
Some members of the public also questioned why there were no maps available of possible routes for a relief road.
But Andrew Bainbridge said: “The possible consultation next year is not about detailed alignments of routes, but principles of how to address congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
“I can assure you that, prior to any specific route being adopted as a ‘preferred route’, a consultation on the detailed alignment would be carried out. This is normal practice.”
Coun John Moretta of Killinghall Parish Council raised the long-running issue of congestion in the village.
He said: “The only realistic chance Killinghall has of getting a bypass, a bypass we have been waiting for patiently for 90 years, is as part of a wider relief road option.
“We need to ask the public whether they would support the building of a road, alongside sustainable transport, or whether they would support sustainable transport only.”
Councillors’ comments from the meeting will now be submitted to the county council’s executive prior to the executive deciding whether to proceed to public consultation in early 2019.
Before that, The Harrogate Congestion Study will also be discussed by county councillors of the Skipton and Ripon Area Committee.
Speaking after the meeting, Keith Wilkinson MBE, honorary secretary of Bilton Conservation Group, said he was worried a new idea to extend the M65 motorway across the Pennines into Yorkshire as part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ might hit Harrogate.
He said: “There is a bit of a problem with the proposed dual carriageway. Harrogate appears to be in the way... unless you follow the latest proposed re-alignment of the A59 Green Route diversion through Bilton Fields/Nidd Gorge, Starbeck, Calcutt, Rudfarlington to the Southern ByPass at Thistle Hill, Knaresborough to join the A1M at Flaxby.”
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