Letter: Create new cultural quarter in Harrogate

David Rhodes from Ripley thinks that a new cultural quarter should be created in Harrogate.

Friday, 3rd July 2020, 3:02 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd July 2020, 3:06 pm
Harrogate has a great deal to offer, writes David Rhodes

It is interesting to read in recent weeks the number of letters expressing concern over the state and future for Harrogate town centre.

Individual concerns have lobbied for trade, parking, cycling, pedestrianisation, litter, empty property, and of course the Stray, which incidentally, this year commemorates the 250th anniversary of its legal provision in the 1770 Enclosure Act.

In many ways there is a long-standing solution for Harrogate streets by looking at the enhancement schemes carried out by Knaresborough and Ripon 20 years ago, with their Market Place Enhancement Schemes. ‘Street Enhancement’ for everyone. Removing all asphalt, concrete and kerbs and replacing with wall to wall paving and setts, marking out priorities protected with street furniture, bollards, lighting, litter bins, planters, seats. ‘Enhanced streets’ with slow traffic have absorbed markets, bed race, FEVA, 36 bus,loading bays, taxi ranks, cyclists and pedestrians.

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Looking back, the town of Harrogate has not had its very own town council now for 46 years and 2024 will be the 50th anniversary of no actual town council.

There is a case to look back at pros and cons over the years. Noting the development of the Olympic size Hydro, Conference/Concert Centre, restoration of Harrogate Theatre, creation of the Mercer Gallery and the new Civic Centre Offices.

However, at the heart of Harrogate the Royal Baths needed repairs and had to be closed, losing about 100 years of civic community use, for a long lease and numerous bars and restaurants. The Royal Hall similarly had to be closed down, and but for Lilian Mina and others might have been demolished. Now it seems the district wants to hand over most of the leisure facilities to a quango.

The various political district councils over decades have coped with caring for the whole district and Harrogate without a specific town council.

At this time of unprecedented change there is a case to review the role of the district council and the specific needs of Harrogate town. Historically, Harrogate has developed from a modest village to a unique Spa Town and its greatest period was formed by its own town council.

There is a case to follow the precedent set by Skipton, Richmond and others to have a district council and a Harrogate Town Council alongside Knaresborough Town Council and Ripon City Council.

Looking towards 2024 it seems Harrogate has a great deal to offer perhaps with its own Harrogate Town Council (HTC) meeting in the restored Council Chamber and the recent ‘Civic Centre’ becoming a ‘District Centre’ as Harrogate Dales District Council (HDDC) serving the district with its magnificent Nidderdale, Wharfdale, Uredale, Washburn etc.

2024 could be a target date for a greener more sustainable Harrogate town with various projects - street enhancement for all, green lung Stray, promoted Royal Hall, Harrogate Theatre and the Concert Hall, Crescent Gardens to become a dynamic ‘Civic Square’ surrounded by Royal Hall, Royal Baths, Royal Pump Room Museum, Mercer Gallery, civic pride all forming a Civic Square. The old Council Office to have a central community facility and studio/office apartments in its wings.

Finally civic and commercial town centre support for the longstanding aim for the redevelopment of the bus and rail station site.

In 1945 the then town council faced up to the fact that the health, healing side of spa towns was ending and the council took the bold move to develop the exhibition area and concert hall.

Today, exhibition trade has moved on and there is an important need to review the exhibition spaces. In the setting of a potential Civic Square and with the Royal Hall and Concert Hall there is a case for forming a new ‘Cultural Quarter’ for the town.

Clearly the complex has Springfield House offices, Holiday Inn, Royal Hall, Concert Conference Centre and parking. Might one dream of the Lincoln Centre in New York and then imagine a new Harrogate Cultural Quarter with arcades an atrium etc. The Royal Hall to have a restored open courtyard from its promenade, leading to the Concert Hall, Spring field Offices and a new series of quality serviced apartments. The Royal Hall forecourt can lead across to the new Civic Square serving and leading to the Royal Baths, Royal Pump Room Museum, Mercer Gallery and Valley Gardens.

‘Perchance to Dream’ of a Harrogate Town Council by 2024. The old Council Offices restored into a mixture of studio-office-apartments with the original civic core a mixed community facility. Might the old toilets and shelter be replaced with quality apartments that help shape a newly formed Civic Square and more importantly fund the costs.

The cast iron shelter to become a much needed new gallery for the Mercer and the small gallery become a permanent gallery for the remarkable collection of Frith, Turner, Atkinson, Grimshaw etc paintings.

Harrogate, a quality green spa town to live and visit with its Stray, quality enhanced streets, hotels, civic square and new cultural quarter and Harrogate Dales District with its beautiful Dales, Ripon Cathedral City, Knaresborough Market Castle Town, Boroughbridge, Masham and Pateley Bridge, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal World Heritage Site etc etc.