Dear Reader: A very Harrogate protest + my views on Stray controversy

A regular column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

By The Newsroom
Friday, 3rd February 2017, 3:39 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd February 2017, 3:46 pm
The Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers.
The Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers.

A very Harrogate protest took place at the weekend.

This was no typical case of megaphone diplomacy.

It was an entirely peaceful affair on Sunday morning on the bridleway which runs from Bilton to Ripley.

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There was no chanting, no banners or placards and no angry voices.

Just lots of dog walkers, mums and dads and children and buggies trundling along quietly.

They were still making a serious point, however.

This patch of land hailed by award-winning nature author Rob Cowen as “one of the richest wildlife areas in the region” is part of a potential site for a new bypass.

On paper, the plan may alleviate Harrogate’s crippling traffic problems.

In practice it might also mean having a ruinous impact on this beautiful piece of nature on Harrogate’s very door step, including the glorious Nidd Gorge.

Whether such a civilised form of protest does the trick is another matter.

I remember being at a public meeting called by the Harrogate Advertiser in the early years of the new Millennium at the White Hart Hotel at which Phil Willis, the then MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, was one of the main speakers.

The meeting was packed but subdued.

The subject? The second rate standard of rail service being offered on a daily basis on the York-Harrogate-Leeds route to beleagured commuters.

“If you don’t complain more strongly than this, nothing will get better,” said the town’s MP at one point.

And more than ten years down the line who can say he was wrong?

Sitting on the fence is an unattractive position at the best of times but there’s little that’s more quintessentially British than a sentence which contains the word “but” halfway in.

And, look, I’ve just done it.

I’m not being smug. It’s a position I find myself in over the future of the Stray.

The public consultation on whether Harrogate Borough Council’s plan to change the rules protecting what is probably Harrogate’s single most important piece of real estate ends on Monday.

I do support the idea of holding more public events on the Stray in principle but I’m really worried about potential damage in practice.

At this point I ought to state categorically that I’m speaking as a private citizen rather than a journalist.

Recently someone referred to me when I was out and about as “the media man.”

As a statement it’s factually accurate but it didn’t feel right.

I’ve lived in Harrogate for 30 years and I consider the town my home.

As a journalist for all that time I do have to adhere to the industry’s ethics, rules and standards.

But as a citizen I care about what happens here. It isn’t just a story.