Progress on plans for a new cycle path labelled “Harrogate’s version of Brexit” has been described as disappointing by residents groups.
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As the deadline for public comments ended Friday, worries are mounting over the scale and complexity of North Yorkshire County Council’s ambitions for one of Harrogate’s most congested roads in the west side of Harrogate.
As well as a new cycle path stretching in theory from the Prince of Wales roundabout to Cardale Park, the county council also hopes to make major improvements to junctions on Otley Road including smart traffic lights, extra traffic lanes and better pedestrian crossings.
Having secured the necessary funding as part of the Government’s National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) in late 2017, the county council and Harrogate Borough Council originally proposed the creation of a cycle track on Otley Road making both roadside paths “shared pedestrian and cycle ways.”
Since then the project has become bogged down in prolonged talks with local groups about the precise details of the route and the safety of pedestrians who, potentially, could be sharing walking space with cyclists.
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While remaining supportive of the general idea as potentially making a real difference to the congestion, pollution and road safety issues around the west of Harrogate, Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents’ Association said they are worried about the details.
David Siddans, secretary of HAPARA, said: “HAPARA supports the principle of promoting sustainable travel options.
“But we are disappointed that the proposals for the cycle scheme along Otley Road only occupy a limited section of the route.
“We would have preferred to base our judgement on a full scheme providing a cycling route from Beckwith Head Road/Crag Lane through to West Park and some indication of the facilities beyond West Park for access, for example, to Harrogate Station.”
The cost of the entire West Harrogate improvement package is expected to be £4.6m with contributions from the county council, Harrogate Borough Council and housing developers.
The county council’s stated aim is to deliver the improvements by March 2020.
Following a community engagement event held last month, the public has also been given a say.
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The county council invited the public to submit comments or questions on the issue with a deadline which runs out tomorrow, February 15
But not only is the question of consultation muddying the waters, the project must also fit around a perfect storm of different projects and different interested parties.
l A major new cycle path as part of the county council’s commitment to sustainable transport.
l Traffic upgrades on the Harlow Moor Road junction to tackle traffic congestion
l Road resurfacing to bring Otley Road up to scratch for two of the world’s biggest cycling events coming to Harrogate later this year.
l Roadworks caused by developers as part of the current wave of new housing developments on Otley Road.
Throw in the Stray Defence Association’s concern over the effects of a new cycle path on the grass verges and it’s no wonder a leading member of residents group HAPARA is convinced the whole scheme is in danger of living up to the “Harrogate’s version of Brexit” tag.
Neil Hind said: “Much like Brexit we are at a critical point of the process with a lot of debate and discussion on the plans now released. But it does seem there are very divided opinions and lots of mixed views.
“Both Brexit and the planned improvements here are also working to very tight and seemingly unmovable deadlines.”
Additional key questions, HAPARA says, are whether the cycle path will be on both sides of Otley Road, whether it will be two-way cycling and whether cyclists and pedestrians will share the same space.
HAPARA also says the county council’s aim to make changes and improvements to the Otley Road/Harlow Moor Road junction, was complicating matters.
David Siddans said: “No details have been given about the new cycleway through the modified Harlow Moor Road signalled junction, although it has been intimated by the county council that west of the junction there would be a cycleway on the north side of the road only, giving rise to possible pedestrian hazards.”
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Council yet to confirm programme for Otley Road changes
When asked whether the timetable for various changes to Otley Road, such as a new cycle path, is looking tight with so many factors involved, North Yorkshire County Council says it remains confident.
But it also admits it has not firmed up precise timings yet.
Coun Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for access, said: “In view of the fact that a consultation on the Otley Road cycle path is taking place and ending on Friday, and the responses have not yet been analysed, precise timing is still subject to confirmation.
“The engagement event has revealed quite a degree of opposition from local residents who are unhappy in sharing the verge and footpath space with cyclists.
“I’m not sure whether the first major section of the cycle path will most likely be completed in time for the Tour de Yorkshire in early May, probably not, but it will be for the UCI Road World Championships. Because the second section of the cycle path is being funded by developer contributions, the detailed plan for that section has not yet been produced.
“I am hoping that other parts of the west of Harrogate transport scheme will be completed by March 2020 - except for the roundabout on the A61 which is unlikely to go ahead.
“I think this whole matter demonstrates that the provision of new and improved sustainable travel options is not without difficulty. Everyone is supportive but not always for work near them.”
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Ever-changing timetable for work on new cycle path
When it first secured the necessary funding as part of the Government’s National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) in late 2017, North Yorkshire County Council said it wanted to aim to complete the project by March 2020, just 13 months from now.
The timing matters. The initial £3.2m award from the Government’s National Productivity Investment Fund, topped up to £4.6m by North Yorkshire County Council, Harrogate Borough Council and developer contributions, was only made available to the county council in April 2018 to be spent over the following two years.
The county council said at the time North Yorkshire County Council said it expected progress in the spring of 2018.
That aspiration came and went.
A statement by Coun Don Mackenzie to the Harrogate Advertiser earlier this week suggested work would start on one section of the cycle path and the unction upgrades in April.
Within hours, this had been revised to a more general statement saying “the aim remains to start the cycle path and junction upgrades as soon as possible and before the UCIs, to be completed by March 2020.”
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That means, effectively, the cycle path and junction work can only take place from mid-May to mid-September or from October onwards.
Further complications of timing arise when the second section of the possible new cyclepath, from Harlow Moor Road to Cardale Park, is taken into consideration.
Funded by housing developer contributions, there is, as yet, no detailed plan for this.
The county council has said there is a chance work will begin at the same time as the first section, or immediately afterwards.
One thing is sure, with just 13 months until the deadline, whatever schedule is settled on may end up being a tight one.