It will be seven weeks tomorrow (December 4) that the deadline closed for public comments on the contentious Harrogate Town Centre Strategy and Masterplan which, essentially, proposes to pedestrianise large parts of the town centre.
As far as I’m aware, since then, there has been no reaction to the public comments from the councillor responsible for the masterplan; the cabinet member for planning and sustainable transport, Coun Rebecca Burnett.
I raised this issue last week with Harrogate Council’s principal planner who confirmed nothing more would be said until ‘early next year.’
This is at variance to what was said in the draft masterplan, namely that a final version of the plan would be ready for adoption ‘in late 2015’.
I would suggest the delay cannot be because the council has been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of public comments.
As your own newspaper reported (October 15), just 60 comments had been received shortly before the deadline. There was then a last-minute flurry on deadline day itself, with just five organisations or individuals commenting since then.
I’m therefore forced to speculate that the council may be trying to buy itself a bit of time in the hope that opponents of greater pedestrianisation (of which there are many) will have forgotten about the masterplan, or at least be less angry and vocal in their opposition; and that the whole thing can be voted through without anyone realising – until it’s too late.
What’s happening now is that the public comments are being reviewed by council officials (i.e not by the councillors who we elect and are supposed to represent us).
The officials will then prepare what is being called a ‘consultation statement’ which will, effectively, summarise the public comments. This will then be presented to Coun Burnett and it will be up to her to decide what (if any) of the public’s views will be reflected and incorporated in the final version of the masterplan before it is presented to the council’s six-person cabinet for adoption.
I understand that there will be no more opportunities for the public (or opposition councillors) to have any further say, which strikes me as being both undemocratic and unacceptable.
It’s perhaps worth reminding your readers that as a cabinet member, Coun Burnett has the right to approve expenditure on any project up to £100,000 without consulting anyone else.
Presumably it’s possible therefore for her to divide up the pedestrianisation project into several, apparently small, projects each costing less than £100,000 – resulting in what you might call piece-by-piece pedestrianisation?
Surely on an issue as important and far-reaching as this, the residents of Harrogate deserve to have the opportunity to comment on Coun Burnett’s final proposals, not just on the rather vague suggestions contained in the draft report?
Valley Drive, Harrogate