Discussions to suspend Harrogate's Stray Act for cycling's UCI Championship are underway

Consultation has begun on suspending the Stray Act for one final time.
Consultation has begun on suspending the Stray Act for one final time.

Consultation to temporarily suspend the historic law governing use of Harrogate’s picturesque Stray parkland is underway for potentially the last time.

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on Thursday opened up consultation on whether to allow the finish line for the 2019 UCI Road World Championships be hosted at the Stray.

The move has been welcomed by the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce – who have broadly supported the use of the parkland as a hosting platform for events – despite concerns over the impact on the park and local businesses.

Chamber CEO Sandra Doherty said it was “unfortunate” the Stray was the “first casualty” of hosting the championship, but insisted the benefits far outweighed the potential drawbacks.

“The UCI Championship is fantastic for the town and advertises Harrogate and the surrounding area to an audience it couldn’t reach any other way,” Ms Doherty said.

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“We understand for some retailers it could be a possible problem due to road closures but we hope the long term benefits outweigh any short term impacts.”

Suspension of the 1985 Stray Act – a unique piece of law which governs the use of the 200 hectares of parkland – has traditionally been fraught with controversy.

The Act dictates that the parkland can only be used for 35 days of events each year and just 3.5 hectares can be shut off at one time.

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Anything larger – such as hosting the UCI Championship finishing line – requires Harrogate Borough Council to apply to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for a temporary suspension.

The UCI Championship will take place for nine days, from September 21 to 29, but work before and after at the site means it would be closed for 26 days from September 9 to October 4.

The enclosed site used is expected to be 14.5 hectares in size.

When HBC applied in July to suspend the Act, they were told by the Government that it could not continue to dedicate time and resources to grant temporary lifting of the restrictions.

HBC agreed it would be last time it submit an application for suspension.

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However, Ms Doherty said she hoped the parkland would continue to be used as an asset advertising the town.

“We obviously don’t want it to be used every week but it is important we encourage visitors to the town and if we can use the Stray we should – it’s an asset to the town,” she said.

“I wouldn’t see us supporting the use of it every weekend, but for a high profile event which is going to be widely viewed, we’ll definitely support that.”

Harrogate Civic Society chairman Henry Pankhurst said the society was “very disturbed” when the council considered permanently altering the Act in 2016, but were now “content” with this being the last temporary suspension.

“Obviously the Stray is important to just about everyone in the town, and that’s why it has got this unique piece of legislation protecting it,” he said.

“I’m told this is the last time the council will be applying for the temporary suspension (of the Stray Act)…because of that, we’re not quite as concerned as we were about a permanent change to it.”

Mr Pankhurst said the society was “further placated” after seeing how the council had handled previous rejuvenation of parkland, including at the site of the Christmas markets.

Consultation runs until January 17 2019. Submissions can be made by visiting the Government’s consultation website or emailing stray2019@communities.gov.uk.

Lachlan Leeming , Local Democracy Reporting Service