Oatlands traders launch petition calling for change

NADV 1404293AM Oatlands Traders. David Simister with Tony Medri,  Sue Kelly (Damian James Hair) Laura Brown (Cooplands), Grahan Carter (Cafe Culture), Ian Bainbridge (Oatlands Mount Post Office) and Tony Chan (Lotus Chinese Take Away). (1404293AM)
NADV 1404293AM Oatlands Traders. David Simister with Tony Medri, Sue Kelly (Damian James Hair) Laura Brown (Cooplands), Grahan Carter (Cafe Culture), Ian Bainbridge (Oatlands Mount Post Office) and Tony Chan (Lotus Chinese Take Away). (1404293AM)

After months of disruption due to roadworks, the Oatlands Traders Committee will call for an inquiry at the next North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) general meeting.

This follows the drop in trade they have experienced following the highways works on Leeds Road and the development of the site for the new Marks and Spencers store.

The traders will present a petition signed by 219 people, to NYCC, which will also call for a number of changes to council policy, including a consultation period between directly affected residents and traders and a compensation package to be written into any development affecting trade.

Chairman of the Oatlands Traders Committee Tony Medri said: “The intention is to make sure no-one suffers like we had to.

“We have had so many residents and general customers coming into committee member’s shops and saying how they have upset about it.

“It has impacted on the whole of Harrogate. It has got out of control and something needs to be done. It is just horrendous.”

The committee launched a webpage dedicated to the petition campaign, where Mr Medri said they are receiving five signatures every seven minutes.

“The people of Harrogate are fed up, obviously. It’s not just the traders anymore. We have got people coming in from the street wanting to sign the petition. We can’t change the past but we can stop this happening again,” he said.

“We are not going to go away when the road works have ended and this can’t happen again.

“But we must not condemn the guys doing the job, we all want to see the end stage. I had a long chat with the workers and they are felling so despondent. We have to remember it is not their fault, it is their bosses.”

Concerns have also been raised about the effect of the works and the related heavy traffic on the rest of Harrogate.

Chief executive of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce Brian Dunsby said: “Our concern is the effect on the whole Harrogate economy, because people are just avoiding the town because of the trouble.

“The mismanagement of these road works and the failure to simply turn off the lights as repeatedly requested is causing serious economic damage to the Harrogate business community locally and in the town centre.

“There have been too many excuses whilst the Oatlands Traders and many town centre businesses are losing a lot of customers due to these prolonged and poorly managed road works.”

This is something that Rossett Coun David Siddans (Lib Dem) has recognised.

He said: “The economic cost of the actual roadworks is partially felt by the traders, but there is an incalculable cost to people who use the road daily in getting to work and using the bus.

“The effect that is having on the community is something that NYCC as a highways authority and HBC as the planning authority need to look at very closely so that the impact is minimised as far as possible.

“You are bound to have disruption with roadworks but Leeds Road has been a significant lesson.”

NYCC councillors, who will receive the petition at their next general meeting on May 21, have said they are largely sympathetic to the traders.

Harrogate Bilton and Nidd Gorge Coun David Simister (UKIP) said: “I back the Oatlands Traders 100 per cent, because it has been going on far too long.

“The road alterations should have been done before work started on the site, therefore you can reconfigure the roads.

“What I shudder to think is the amount of people heading to Harrogate to spend money getting stuck in the traffic and turning back.”

Harrogate Oatlands Coun John Ennis (Con) said: “I have been talking to the highways people about the roadworks myself because I have been anxious to see this through as quickly as possible because it has taken longer than anybody wanted.

“I would certainly be very sympathetic to the traders trying to get the situation right next time. There are principles about ensuring people are well informed and it probably has been a more difficult process than it needed to be.”

Harrogate Saltergate Coun Don Mackenzie (Con) has, however, said that he supports NYCC, who are responsible for safety and the area’s development.

“Of course I recognise the trader’s concerns about takings being down, and that is something to be worried about if they are down significantly. Having said that in the end I believe the whole area will be much improved when Marks and Spencers opens,” he said.

“I support NYCC. It is very easy for people who do not have the responsibility for safety to question the county council, but there are majoy safety considerations there so NYCC has my full support.

“I think colleagues at NYCC will want to look back at the work and ensure that the safety of the site has been managed at all times and that the work is satisfactorily carried out.”

Despite the ongoing problems caused by the Leeds Road works associated with the new M&S Simply Food store, representatives of the food chain have told Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones that they are eager to work with the traders to promote the ‘Leeds Road family’ of shops.

In his letter to Mr Jones, head of public affairs at Marks and Spencer Tony Ginty said: “At M&S we pride ourselves on being active partners in the local communities we serve. That is why we are keen to engage with the local business community once we have officially taken responsibility and ownership of the store in the summer.

“I would be happy to be contacted at that point to help facilitate a meeting between local M&S representatives and your constituents.”

Mr Jones said: “This is a very positive step forward. M&S seems to recognise that it is part of a wider solution to the problems that local traders continue to face during the construction period of the new store.

“The willingness of such a large and internationally renowned brand to engage with the local business community is to be applauded.

“I am though concerned that we don’t miss any opportunity to promote the local stores alongside the new M&S. I have written back to M&S therefore asking that a meeting be held prior to the store opening.

“This is so the local independent shops on Leeds Road can be part of that launch and benefit from the publicity the opening will undoubtedly attract. Following the very positive initial response I am hopeful that M&S will be similarly receptive to this call.”

Mr Jones has also written to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) which determines the level of business rates for shops. He argued the disruption over a long period of time means that the business rates should be temporarily reduced because of what is called a material change of circumstance.

A meeting will between VOA representatives and the chair of the Oatlands traders group took place yesterday (Wednesday, April 30).