With just two weeks to go until the deadline for public consultation over traffic congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough, the whole issue is still mired in confusion and controversy.
But what issues are vexing the public as they attempt to fill in North Yorkshire County Council's online public survey.
The Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers puts five key questions to the county council’s executive member for transport Coun Don Mackenzie.
Question 1: The North Yorkshire County Council’s current online survey on traffic congestion advises the public to check the council’s two packages of ideas for tackling the problem, one made up solely of sustainable measures like park-and-rides (B), the other a mix of the latter plus relief roads (E).
But the survey’s questions are largely general. Once the deadline passes, how will the council decide how to relate the public’s broad views to the precise packages?
Coun Don Mackenzie: “The survey asks questions individually about the full range of different options that are included in both packages.
“When we know the results of the survey we will be able to see what options the people of Harrogate and Knaresborough like, feel we should do more of and which they would use. The final package, if one is agreed, may include a wide range of measures from either B or E or both.”
Question 2: Why hasn’t North Yorkshire County Council simply asked the public to give their viewpoint on the two packages in the survey?
Why bother spending time and money on the packages if you were not going to ask the public about them directly?
Coun Don Mackenzie: “The two packages B and E are just a way of presenting all the different options for reducing traffic congestion to demonstrate how a package could work. We want to know what people think so we can start to pull together what we believe will be the best performing package with the greatest degree of public support.”
Question 3: Why are there differences in the questions in the Printable Survey from the Easy Read Survey?
Question 15: “Having read the information, how strongly do you feel that we should construct a relief road between Harrogate and Knaresborough including a Killinghall Bypass (as shown in the information) to reduce congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough?”
Easy Read Survey
“Do you think a new road between Harrogate and Knaresborough would help with traffic?”
Question 15 does not even exist in the Easy Read Survey.
Coun Don Mackenzie: “As congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough is an extremely complex matter, the information from the original survey is interpreted accordingly into an Easy Read version, but it cannot be an exact replica. The county council has a duty to provide accessible information, so the Easy Read version of the survey has been produced by communications specialists in consultation with colleagues working with learning disability self-advocates, to allow people to express their views.”
Question 4: Is it fair to assume that no matter how the survey turns out, and the meetings which will follow it, that North Yorkshire County Council will be introducing some sustainable policies on transport in Harrogate and Knaresborough because they are necessary and the right thing to do?
If so, why not simply get on with what you think is best?
Coun Don Mackenzie: “Yes, we support sustainable transport.
“However, we feel that looking to the future, in order to manage congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough we need to make a step change in what we do rather than just continuing with business as usual and so we are looking to identify an integrated package of measures.
“One of the options, and it is only one of a wide range of options, that could be included in a package is building a new road. Other options could be based only more around providing much more for what is often referred to as sustainable transport.”
Question 5: Anti-relief road campaigners claim the background data and information supplied by the county council on the ‘packages’ online about the potential effectiveness on relief road is not consistent and does not back up its ‘headline’ claims that a new road running near Nidd Gorge would actually reduce traffic in Harrogate.
For example, the county councill says online that “initial modelling has shown that package E would have a significantly greater impact on traffic flows on the existing network than the reductions achieved by package B.
“In particular with package E, the A59 in both Harrogate and Knaresborough and the A661 modelled show reductions of at least a third during the peak hour compared to between 5% and 10% reductions achieved by package B.”
But anti-relief road campaigners say when you look at the traffic flow tables in WSP’s Relief Road Modelling Summary from the Harrogate Relief Road Review comissioned by North Yorkshire County Council, there is no evidence to support the claimed “reductions of at least a third.”
Coun Don Mackenzie: “With regards to the questioning of our quoted figures, these are deliberately very high level as we are still at an early stage of the process and have not fully defined any of the packages so cannot be more precise about their exact impact.
“As for claims that a new relief road would lead to induced traffic caused by new trips that people may make simply because it is easier to travel, this actually applies to any option that reduces congestion, not just new roads.
“Some campaigners claim that this means that with a relief road the new road and other roads in and around Harrogate will just fill up with traffic again.
“The amount of induced traffic is very dependent on local circumstances but it is highly unlikely to significantly reduce the effectiveness of a relief road.
“Properly designed relief roads can reduce congestion in towns and cities especially when provided as part of a package which can go some way to reducing the impacts of induced traffic.
“By suggesting a package approach, the impact of induced traffic can also be reduced still further by, for example, using some of the freed up road space from reduced levels of traffic in the town to provide more for cyclists, pedestrians or buses.
“The council is confident that all the options put forward, including the relief road, would significantly reduce traffic levels on some of the main routes into Harrogate and Knaresborough.
“I don’t think the question should really be ‘will a relief road work’ but more ‘do the people of Harrogate and Knaresborough think the congestion benefits of a relief road outweigh the environmental impact’?”