Harrogate Council has spent £51,000 on Stray repairs...so far

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Official figures show that more than £50,000 has been spent so far by Harrogate Borough Council on repairs to the Stray at West Park which has been left in a worse waterlogged state than ever by the weekend's storms.

Ever since the historic grassy parkland at West Park Harrogate was finally handed back by the organisers of the rain-soaked UCI cycling championships to Harrogate Borough Council last October, controversy has raged over the Stray's damaged and waterlogged condition which has made it largely unusable to residents.

The scale of that task for the council's parks department has now been made worse by Storms Ciara and Dennis, not only in physical terms but possibly in financial.

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Harrogate Borough Council’s own figures, published recently in its expenditure and income report for the 2019 UCI Road World Championships, show it had already spent a total of £51,572.47 on West Park Stray repairs to the end of January 2020.

The waterlogged, fenced off Stray at West Park in Harrogate pictured today, Monday, February 17 after the weekend's storms and rain.The waterlogged, fenced off Stray at West Park in Harrogate pictured today, Monday, February 17 after the weekend's storms and rain.
The waterlogged, fenced off Stray at West Park in Harrogate pictured today, Monday, February 17 after the weekend's storms and rain.

The town itself has been split in its reaction to the damage to the Stray.

Some have remained firm in the opinion that "it's only grass" and it will re-grow.

Other question whether last September's international cycling event really benefitted the town and have been critical of the level of protection Harrogate Borough Council gave to the Stray during the nine days it acted as the Fan Zone during the global sporting event.

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But the leader of Harrogate Borough Council said the overall legacy of the UCIs would be hugely positive.

Hosting the international cycling event had resulted in a £17.8 million-pound boost to the local economy of the Harrogate district, as well as being watched by 329 million globally on TV.

And he defended utilising the Stray for economic objectives, pointing out the level of rainfall during the cycling event had been extraordinary.

Coun Richard Cooper said: “In these economically difficult times for town centres it is felt that the use of the Stray in a measured and careful way can bring a benefit which would out weigh the worries of damage to this precious green space.

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"The ongoing legacy is new conferences coming to Harrogate and a general year-round increase in the number of visitors who will use our local independent shops, staying in local guest houses and visit the surrounding areas of Ripon, Knaresborough and the Dales."

Harrogate Borough Council has been working with the cycling event's organisers Yorkshire 2019 in a bid to have the cycling championship's insurer help cover the costs of restoring The Stray, though there have been no reports of progress on the matter as yet.

Local business pressure group Independent Harrogate say the council's recently published assessments of the costs and benefits to Harrogate of hosting the UCI cycling championships should have paid more attention to its impact on the Stray.

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Nicholas Richardson of Independent Harrogate said: "Negative economic factors resulting from the ongoing condition of the Stray, which will deter visitors and devalue the town, should have been taken into account."

The Stray Defence Association, the guardians of the Stray, has been saying almost since the event ended last September that the West Park Stray was unlikely to return fully to its former glory in 2020.

Ths SDA had hoped to get on with planting new bulbs for the crocus and daffodils the Stray is famous for as part of the repair effort which the council had already started before the series of winter storms hit.

Some of the fences protecting West Park Stray had been taken down and some footpaths successfully reopened to the public.

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Chair Judy d'Arcy Thompson said: "Yorkshire 2019 may well have handed back our Stray to Harrogate Borough Council but it is yet to be handed back to the people of Harrogate.

"It could well be a very long time, indeed, before it is anywhere near useable."