Is this the week Nidd Gorge relief road idea died again and Harrogate's green revolution started to happen

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A leading councillor has stepped into dampen down fears over the return of a Nidd Gorge Relief Road in the same week as two major victories were announced in the battle for a more eco-friendly future across the Harrogate district.

The alarm bells were set ringing among campaigners by news that a new road through Harrogate as part of a reconfigured A59 may be required in Transport for the North’s strategy for improving east-west connectivity for some of the north’s important economic centres, including North Yorkshire.

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A statutory body formed in 2018 to make the case for strategic transport improvements across the North of England, part of TfN’s vision is to develop improved road links all the way from Preston on the west coast to Hull on the east.

Flashback to 2019 and a protest against the option of a relief road near Nidd Gorge which had appeared in the Harrogate Congestion Study.Flashback to 2019 and a protest against the option of a relief road near Nidd Gorge which had appeared in the Harrogate Congestion Study.
Flashback to 2019 and a protest against the option of a relief road near Nidd Gorge which had appeared in the Harrogate Congestion Study.

Harrogate Advertiser readers, including Chris Kitson of Nidd Gorge Community Action - which fought successfully against a relief road from Bilton past the Nidd Gorge when it was raised as part of the Harrogate Congstion Study - got in touch to sound a new warning.

But Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for highways and passenger transport at North Yorkshire County Council, which has been a TfN board member since its inception , said public opposition to the idea during the Harrogate Congestion Study meant the idea “was not an option for this generation”.

While confirming that its bid for cash to enact a £60m scheme to re-align the A59 trans-Pennine route at Kex Gill - between Harrogate and Skipton - was essential to improving the county’s business prospects, he said the Harrogate - Knaresborough, east-west route option was not a realistic possibility.

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Coun Mackenzie said: “The Kex Gill scheme will improve the efficiency and reliability of the highway, as will the J47 A1(M) scheme off the A59.

“But getting through Harrogate and Knaresborough will remain challenging. An east-west route is, in theory, still possible between Harrogate and Knaresborough, but it is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

“The results of the Harrogate Congestion Study public engagement indicated overwhelming opposition to it and I believe that has closed down that possibility for many years.

“I think it is safe to say that taking this trans-Pennine route out of the towns and re-aligning it between the two towns is not an option for this generation.”

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Coun Mackenzie also expressed personal delight over the announcement that North Yorkshire County Council had finally won its £9.6m bid from York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to make substantial improvements to Harrogate-York railway services with the realisic prospect of two trains per hour in each direction.

The work, which will start as soon as this Sunday, November 22, will see the antiquated signalling system upgraded, as well as changes to the track layout at Cattal railway station will enable trains to travel through the area at 40mph, up from the current speed of 20mph, enabling two trains to arrive in the station at the same time.

Combined with the county council winning £1million of new investment from the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Emergency Active Travel Fund for various measures to boost cycling and walking in Harrogate, including a new £250,000 segregated cycle lane on the A59 between the town and Knaresborough, this week has finally seen the Harrogate district start to move in the direction of the Government’s much vaunted support for “active travel” and a new “green industrial revolution”.

Despite some voices in the national motoring lobby being raises in defence of the car, a recent survey revealed that 65% of people across England supported reallocating road space to cycling and walking in their local area.

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But the simple fact is, the £175 million allocated this week from the Department of Transport for cycling and walking schemes in England is dwarfed by the £27.4 billion being invested over the next five years through Highways England’s roads plan to ensure the road network is fit for the future and safe, reliable and efficient for drivers and businesses.

Last week saw the first meeting between leading Harrogate borough councillors and members of Harrogate District Climate Action Network.

Formed recently from 13 green groups in the Harrogate District, whose total membership, including some overlap, exceeds 4,000 residents, the new organisation feels recent announcements must only be the start of progress to hitting carbon emissions and moving away from a car-dominated society.

At the moment, campaigners are attempting to work together with local authorities on creating an environmentally-friendly future.

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One of HD-CAN’s founding members Nic Haughton said the council had left an “open door” to further discussions, including an invitation to the next meeting of Harrogate council’s own group dedicated to bringing about change - Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition.

That attitude seems to be shared by the general public in the Harrogate district which has stayed quietly on the sidelines up to now.

But as ideas such as low-traffic neighbourhoods, school streets and zero emission zones start to turn from proposals into reality on our own door step, that may, of course, start to change with more people raising their own opinions.

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