Growing concern at major housing developments in west Harrogate
The seemingly endless cycle of new housing developents in the Harrogate district has produced many examples of urban expansion but none, perhaps, quite like the ‘western arc’.
In numbers alone, the footprint encompassing such areas of Harrogate as Harlow, Rossett, Burn Bridge, Pannal, Beckwithshaw and North Rigton is different.
The west side of Harrogate currently finds itself with around a quarter of the entire Local Plan housing allocations for the district - at around 3,500 to 4,000 new houses.
Although involving different developers with different schemes in different sites, local residents groups, green campaigners and parish councils are so alarmed by the potential result on amenities, schools and, in particular, traffic congestion, they have come together to found their own ‘super group’.
The membership of the Western Arc Coordination Group has seen Harlow & Pannal Ash Residents’ Association joining forces with Haverah Park and also Beckwithshaw Parish Council, Duchy Residents’ Association, Hampsthwaite Action Group, Harrogate District Cycle Action, North Rigton Parish Council, Pannal & Burn Bridge Parish Council and Zero Carbon Harrogate.
Pannal and Burn Bridge parish councillor Howard West said: “The current problem of a lack of infrastructure stems from the culpability of both North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council over the past decade in allowing housing development without financial provision for adequate traffic handling.
“There is no public transport provision between the western arc and the A61 near Pannal because all the roads are narrow former cart tracks, the state of which is lamentable and busses can’t pass each other.”
As well as the disruption to their daily lives being wrought now by the construction of so many new houses, members of Western Arc Coordination Group claims residents are facing the worst of both possible worlds on future traffic and transport.
HAPARA secretary David Siddans acknowledges reconciling the need to cut carbon emissions at the same time as improving transport would be “difficult” but adds not enough is being done in terms of sustainable transport initiatives or new road infrastructure.
He said: “Communities in Harlow, Rossett, Pannal, Beckwithshaw and North Rigton were already experiening severe traffic problems before Covid. Our aim is to ensure this huge urban expansion can be accommodated without causing further harm to residents or the environment.
“That’s why the Coordination Group produced its Transport for the West document which offers suggestions for infrastructure upgrades and sustainable travel which might go some way to handling the predicted new journeys created by new housing.”
The group’s own proposed solutions include an upgraded road between development sites and A61/A658 south of Pannal, a better and more extensive network of public transport and the introduction of new park and rides.
In an effort to address concerns, Harrogate Borough Council is working on its West Harrogate Parameters Plan designed to look at infrastructure needs in the area.
Discussions between themselves, North Yorkshire County Council and the Western Arc Coordination Group are ongoing.
The county council’s stated aim as regards new housing in the western arc is to end up with “comprehensive, well thought out, sustainable and cohesive development” but for the Western Arc Coordination Group there is a long way to go.
As with many current issues, the roots of the dispute can be traced to the saga of Harrogate’s Local Plan.
After years of wrangling, last year saw Government Inspector Richard Schofield finally rule that 1,000 houses should be removed from Harrogate’s Local Plan before he would consider it sound.
But campaigners claim Harrogate council’s interpretation of that decision is still leading to an explosion in the housing numbers.
They say planning permission should be refused for developments in excess of the Local Plan provision.
Harrogate Borough Council argues the opposite - that it is precisely the Local Plan which requires proposals for development to demonstrate they can deliver all of the infrastructure needed.
To anxious residents, it’s the end result that matters.
Mr West said: “To date, no plans for infrastructure have been forthcoming other than the Otley Road cycle path which might help 2% of traffic at most.
“A proper consultation is planned for Green Hammerton/Cattal with fewer houses than on the Western Arc.
“It is the developers and the councils which are leading all this with parish councils and HAPARA treated like also-rans. One asks why there wasn’t a consultation for the Western Arc?”
What residents on Harrogate’s western arc want
Parish councils, residents associations and green groups have come together to form the Western Arc Coordination Group to press for better infrastructure in their part of Harrogate as housing developments mushroom.
Among the many points they are making to local authorities are:
1: A better appreciation of the cumulative scale of the developments is needed in terms of houses and trip generation as a quarter of the entire housing needs for the district will take place in the western arc, creating twice as many extra trips as peak pre-Covid levels on Otley Road.
2: More investment in transport infrastructure to handle the predicted volume of trips by bus, car, bike and pedestrians without adding to problems on existing roads, including:
Upgraded route between development sites and A61 / A658 south of Pannal.
Pannal and Burn Bridge councillor Howard West said this did not mean the area needed a new bypass, such as had been mooted by North Yorkshire County Council for Killinghall as part of its Harrogate Congestion Study. Mr West said he understood the county council had already ruled that the idea of a western bypass did not meet the necessary economic benefit cost ratio requirements. Mr West said:
“No one has asked for a western bypass.
“What is needed is an adequate roadway between Buttersyke Bar roundabout, or nearby, and the new developments.
“This may mean some widening in places and an odd stretch of new roadway - not a complete bypass or new link road.
Extensive network of public transport including Park & Ride service.
3: Planning permission refused for developments in excess of the Local Plan provision. To avoid increasing the demand for travel.
4: The creation of a sense of community with local services.
To avoid increasing the demand for travel outside the area.
5: Houses built to the highest environmental standards using energy from low carbon sources.
To comply with climate change targets and avoid retrofitting.
Highways officials and council bosses working on ‘Parameters Plan’
North Yorkshire County Council says its is attempting to address traffic and transport issues associated with the building of 3,500 to 4,000 new housing on the western arc of Harrogate.
It is currently working on a funded series of sustainable transport improvements with £4.6 millon worth of investment from central Government, its own budget and developer contributions.
The proposals include smart traffic lights, improvements to the junction of Harlow Moor Road and Otley Road, a new off-road cycle route on Otley Road and new or improved pedestrian crossings.
The county council refutes any suggestion that there has been insufficient consultation with community groups and residents on improving transport infrastructure in western Harrogate in the face of development.
In a joint letter last week with Harrogate Borough Council to Pannal and Burn Bridge Parish councillors, the council said developers were not driving the whole process on the western arc.
The council said: “The views of developers are not being prioritised over other parties in relation to the West Harrogate Parameters Plan.
“We have been working with the developers and their agents, to steer production of the technical evidence which is informing the Parameters Plan.
“We have engaged with parish council and other local groups, which has included sharing and inviting comments on the draft Parameters Plan and holding joint workshops with them and the site promoters .
“There will be a further round of engagement before the Parameters Plan is finalised, including an opportunity for parish councils to give their views.”
North Yorkshire County Council says its Development Management team is looking at investment on roads in the western area partnership with Harrogate Borough Council to “identify solutions”.
In addition, its Harrogate Transport Improvement Plan (HTIP) being developed following the Harrogate Congestion Study Public Engagement, is set to consider a wide range of options to deal with congestion, including boosting sustainable travel and public transport.
Harrogate Borough Council says the concerns of parishes in the western arc over housing developments will be addressed in the West Harrogate Parameters Plan it is currently developing thanks to “targeted consultation with local community groups”.
The councils says the Parameters Plan, in association with the general Local Plan, will ensure housing developments are delivered with sufficient infrastructure.
A council spokesperson said: “In order to coordinate quality development with joined-up infrastructure, we are working with the various site promoters to prepare a parameters plan for the west of Harrogate.
“This plan will provide the framework against which subsequent applications will be determined.
“Once we have worked with the site promoters to address the design recommendations a further round of targeted engagement will then take place.”