MP Andrew Jones column: Nidd Gorge relief road proposal should be dropped

The county council is right to be thinking about the problem of congestion in the Harrogate area.
The county council is right to be thinking about the problem of congestion in the Harrogate area.

I live five minutes walk from the centre of Harrogate, and that’s been the case for nearly 20 years and it’s great, I love it. It does mean that I know, like every other resident, that our roads are often congested.

There are many reasons for this increase in traffic. Every day thousands of people leave Harrogate and Knaresborough to work in Leeds, and thousands make the journey in reverse.

Journeys to school can be a factor, people often tell me that parking around schools is a problem as more and more pupils drive to school. The school run is significant.

Our roads are constrained by houses and the Stray so widening them is both undesirable and not possible.

We have a set of ingredients which when combined lead to congestion. I see it, I experience it, like many other motorists I sometimes sit in it. And when I sit in it I know that I am part the cause of congestion.

Our part of Yorkshire is a beautiful one in which to live. We have by and large attractive town centres. There are award-winning parks and gardens, unique independent shops, national and international brands. We are on the doorstep of fantastic countryside, the dales and the vales which girdle the urban areas punctuated with picturesque villages.

I am sure that most people, like me, consider themselves fortunate.

But good fortune is only one element of why our area is so special. Our councils, often the focus of blame, have in general safeguarded our area well. There are grumbles – some of them are loud.

We know we need more housing so our children and grandchildren can stay here and work here. But few people want housing near them.

When a proposal comes forward that I believe is so out-of-keeping with the generally good stewardship that our councils have demonstrated over decades I feel duty-bound, as a resident and as the Member of Parliament, to speak out.

The so-called relief road through the Nidd Gorge is one such proposal. That is why I spoke out in the Harrogate Advertiser and Knaresborough Post last week. The County Council are right to be thinking about the problem of congestion, and right to be thinking that a package of measures is likely to be required in order to make a difference. A package of measures under a sustainable transport heading is where I think progress lies. I have always focused on public transport improvements to offer motorists attractive choices to encourage them to leave their cars at home.

The Nidd Gorge and the land surrounding it is a part of what makes our area special. It isn’t an added extra that we can do without. It has high environmental value in itself and welcomes thousands of walkers, horse-riders and cyclists.

How can a road which means crossing Forest Moor in Knaresborough somewhere even though it has many homes on it, bisecting Harrogate Golf Club, crossing somehow the Nidderdale Greenway and potentially the River Nidd outweigh the environmental value of that land?

Through traffic is 7% of all traffic.

Would the effect of a relief road in that location really have such a dramatic effect on traffic congestions as to be worth the environmental damage it would cause?

And with the competing priorities for road funding across the United Kingdom would such a road really attract the national funding it would require in order to be built. The answer to all those questions is no. That is why I think the idea should be dropped – and dropped right now.