Harrogate Town Centre Survey: What the results mean for the people of our town

Results from the Town Centre Survey have made for interesting reading.
Results from the Town Centre Survey have made for interesting reading.

With a total of 850 people responding, the Harrogate Advertiser’s Town Centre Survey proved to be a popular exercise in public consultation - and some.

Town Centre Survey: Results at a glance
But, now that the responses are in, it’s clear the results collated by this newspaper say something significant about Harrogate and the public’s appetite for change.

A close look at how the public answered the 15 questions we set them about the state of Harrogate town centre and ways of improving shows they not only understand what is going on, they have, in the main, clear ideas what do about it.

The surprise isn’t so much that there are a lot imaginative, strong and, occasionally, surprising suggestions from individuals.

It’s that the survey contains clear trends, most of which tie into similar thinking by Harrogate Borough Council, Harrogate DistrictChamber of Commerce and the team behind the current attempt to win Business Improvement District status for Harrogate..

Most people who replied to our Town Centre survey were positive about the future but the challenges to the retail sector and food and drink businesses in Harrogate are there to see.

A total of 7.8% may say they shop online every day, which may suggest the threat of consumers’ changing habits is minor.

But the survey figures also show only a third of our respondents use the town centre on a daily basis.

Town Centre Survey: Calls for major changes to how Harrogate does markets - and to its biggest shopping centre
Even more worryingly, less than a majority (43.6%) use it once a week.

The results suggest underlying weaknesses in Harrogate town centre beyond the nationwide online threat from giants like Amazon.

The biggest negative factor in a negative public view of Harrogate town centre is the perception of empty shops itself.

Comment after comment in the replies to our survey highlighted empty shops as one of the worst things about the town centre.

Perhaps surprisingly for a town with a reputation for its beauty, a high proportion of the other main problems highlighted in the survey concern the physical appearance of the town centre.

Harrogate’s green spaces and architecture may figure highly in the survey’s top five best things about the town centre but next in the list of worries was the following: congested roads and too many cars, beggars, drunks and anti-social behaviour, litter and dirty streets and ‘lifeless’ pedestrianised areas.

As to what do do about these issues, both Harrogate Borough Council and the town’s MP Andrew Jones have emphasised in recent months that Harrogate’s overall retail vacancy rate has actually fallen.

But both also acknowledged Harrogate needs to develop a strategy that brings people into the retail centre.

Our survey shows there is support for more park and ride schemes but the survey also reveals that another possible way of addressing people’s concerns could prove politically divisive if put into practice.

People may want less congested roads but, when we asked about pedestrianisation in our Town Centre Survey, 54.7% said they were against it. There were few demands for a new bypass or relief road.

And for every person calling for cars to be banned, there was another one callling for free or cheaper parking. The two biggest ideas for improving the town centre suggest the Harrogate public are as aware of the issues in the retail sector as the retail sector itself.

Town Centre Survey: We reveal what the people of Harrogate want
What our readers most want to see is:

1. Lower rents or business rents for town centre shops, bars and businesses.

2. More public events and outdoors entertainment in the town centre.

The results should be music to the ears of the local business leaders and councillors currently backing Harrogate’s BID, which If successful, will see a levy being set on local businesses to fund agreed projects for the common good.

Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, for one, has already expressed its concern that, since the Government completed the first business rates revaluation for seven years in 2017 on 1.9 million business properties nationally, the effect on business rates has hit some shop and businesses hard.

On a positive note, the survey’s results also show the town’s independents are well used and liked and further support and a higher presence and/or profile would likely to be welcomed.

In terms of which type of shops people would like to see more of how, there are two clear winners - quality women’s fashion shops (Zara was mentioned dozens of times) and more independents.

Also showing strongly was John Lewis, the one shop that seems to unite everyone!

The word ‘market’ pops up regularly in the survey replies but there seems to be no universal theme about what to so about it.

Different members of the public raised, variously, the following idea:

Town Centre Survey: What our readers say are the WORST things about Harrogate
* Make the monthly market on Cambridge Street weekly.

* Improve Victoria Shopping Centre by allowing smaller independents in.

* Build a covered market.

* Give more space to Harrogate Christmas Market.

For all the support for the town’s independents, the survey suggests the public’s love of ‘chains’ is changing, not dying.

When asked which type of food outlet, cafe or restaurant they would most like to come to Harrogate, the most popular answer is international sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger.

Other popular answers include American fast food restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King.

In yet another example of residents’ common sense, the second highest response to the question was that there are too many restaurants in Harrogate already.

Boiled down to the most basic point, there’s just one thing that unites everyone’s thoughts on the future of the town centre- from the readers, to Harrogate Borough Council to businesses themselves.

Footfall. Whatever is or isn’t done in the coming months, everyone wants to see more footfall. The end goal is that people spend less time on their mobile or tablet or laptop and more time in the town centre.

The Harrogate Advertiser’s Town Centre Survey certainly provides plenty of ideas on how to convert this crucial aspiration into a reality.

Town Centre Survey: Making the most of our independents
Top Four conclusions:

1. In terms of which type of shops people would like to see more of how, there are two clear winners - quality women’s fashion shops (Zara was mentioned dozens of times) and more independents.

Also showing strongly was John Lewis, the one shop that seems to unite everyone!

2. What our readers most want to see is: lower rents or business rents for town centre shops, bars and businesses.

More public events and outdoors entertainment in the town centre.

Town Centre Survey: What our readers said about their Harrogate town centre
3. People may want less congested roads but, when we asked about pedestrianisation in pur Town Centre Survey, 54.7% said they were against it.

And for every person calling for cars to be banned, there was another one callling for free or cheaper parking.

4. Harrogate’s green spaces and architecture may figure highly in the survey’s top five best things about the town centre but next in the list of worries was the following: congested roads and too many cars, beggars, drunks and anti-social behaviour, litter and dirty streets and ‘lifeless’ pedestrianised areas.

Read more on the Harrogate Town Centre Survey:

Town Centre Survey: We reveal what the people of Harrogate want
Town Centre Survey: Making the most of our independents
Town Centre Survey: What our readers said about their Harrogate town centre
Town Centre Survey: Free parking on a Sunday and time to build a park-and-ride?
Town Centre Survey: What our readers say are the BEST things about Harrogate
Town Centre Survey: What our readers say are the WORST things about Harrogate
Town Centre Survey: Calls for major changes to how Harrogate does markets - and to its biggest shopping centre
Town Centre Survey: Results at a glance