How far can new 'Green Power' take Harrogate in future decisions

Is this a key moment for the Harrogate district and a new greener future?
Can green power take Harrogate to a new, less car-based future?Can green power take Harrogate to a new, less car-based future?
Can green power take Harrogate to a new, less car-based future?

Beyond the matter of what happens next to Harrogate Spring Water’s hopes of expanding, one burning question emerged from last week’s most surprising planning decision for years - is Harrogate becoming a ‘green’ town and what does that mean?

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It’s hard to believe councillors would have said ‘no’ ten years ago to the famous water brand which is not only a major employer but also carries Harrogate’s name far and wide.

The overwhelming vote at Harrogate Borough Council against the company’s plans to build an even bigger bottling plant than expected at Rotary Wood near the Pinewoods - after an outpouring of hostility from residents and green groups - shows just how much times have changed.

The Harrogate Advertiser talked to local community groups and politicans after the result and all agreed last week’s historic victory for ‘green power’ represents a potentially huge moment.

Harrogate and Knaresborough Lib Dem councillor Pat Marsh said she had been surprised by the public’s reaction to the issue.

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Coun Marsh said: “Harrogate Spring Water’s planning application has brought environmental issues to the forefront in a strong way.

“Since the issue of the building of a Tesco Supermarket on Cemetery Extension land, in 1990, I have never received so many letters from residents on any application.

“While planning is never about numbers but about planning policies, this application showed how many local residents are concerned about the environment.”

If the mood now appears to have changed decisively, it’s been a long time in the making. The Harrogate Congestion Study commissioned by North Yorkshire County Council in 2019 may show 70% of residents now prefer sustainable transport measures over more roads.

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But it’s 30 years since Harrogate became the first district in the north of England to have a Green Party councillor.

Everyone the Advertiser talked to hoped there would now be a new beginning for public policy in the Harrogate district with a stronger emphasis on the environment and climate change across the board when it comes to decision-making.

Having tasted victory over Harrogate Spring Water’s plans and proposals for a ‘Nidd Gorge Relief Road’ in recent times, the local forces fighting for a greener future now want to see urgent progress on issues including:

An extensive network of cycling infrastructure;

More sustainable transport and reduced traffic emissions;

Less emphasis on car travel and new road building;

Greener housing in new housing developments.

Reflecting changing times in a different world, local authorities would argue the milestone vote on Harrogate Spring Water’s plans reflected a green consensus they themselves have helped to create.

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In 2019, Harrogate Borough Council adopted the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the district by 2038.

The same year also saw it launch the Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition including representatves from local businesses, public sector organisations and voluntary groups to help push the green agenda.

Council leader Coun Richard Cooper, one of the most prominent opponents of the idea of a ‘Nidd Gorge Relief Road’ said: “The council is always looking to build upon our existing Carbon Reduction Strategy.

“We were the first council in the country to fit ground source heatpumps in council properties - that was over a decade ago.”

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Bolstered by recent funding schemes set up by the Government, including the Transforming Cities Fund and the Active Travel Fund, North Yorkshire County Council is working on the creation of a series of new cycle paths in Harrogate and a green transformation of the Station Parade area in the town centre.

But fears remain that action is lagging behind good intentions on climate change.

Coun Pat Marsh believes the rejection of Harrogate Spring Water’s revised expansion plans showed residents were ahead of the authorities.

She said: “People power can make a difference. But everyone needs to take responsibility for what they do, and that means local authorities, businesses, and the Government in Westminster.

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“We need the right policies and incentives in place and a willingness to all pull together for our collective futures.

“For me, the decision showed that our residents are ahead of our council on these issues.”

A former councillor and leading figure in Harrogate and Knaresborough Labour Party, says the lesson of the battle for Rotary Wood is ‘ignore the public at your peril’.

Mr Geoff Foxall said: “It was great to see the environment and our appreciation of its use being given a greater priority than boosting the profits of an international company such as Danone which owns Harrogate Spring Water.

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“But it follows a swing towards environmental protection and enhancement shown by Harrogate residents over the past four years. The important lesson for decision makers is that you cannot ignore the people around you. Local residents must be part of the decision making process right from the start or they’ll force their opinions on you from the outside.”

There is no doubting the ‘green’ shift in opinion... where it now takes us remains to be seen.

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