Transport Talk with Coun Don Mackenzie: Major new Harrogate relief road options revealed

This graphic shows the indicative routes of the Harrogate Relief Road options.  � Crown copyright 2016 Media 051/16
This graphic shows the indicative routes of the Harrogate Relief Road options. � Crown copyright 2016 Media 051/16

Readers will be aware that one of North Yorkshire County Council’s top priorities for road improvements is a Relief Road for Harrogate.

The first meeting of the Relief Road Steering Group was held on September 7 to study and comment upon a set of route options prepared by highways officers.

This image shows forecast minimum +/- traffic flow variances on key existing roads of each option.  � Crown copyright 2016 Media 051/16

This image shows forecast minimum +/- traffic flow variances on key existing roads of each option. � Crown copyright 2016 Media 051/16

The steering group is chaired by me and includes my county council colleague, Michael Harrison, and Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for planning and sustainable transport, Rebecca Burnett.

Our regular meetings will be attended by both county and borough officers.

We will liaise closely with a wider engagement group of key organisations, and with the wider public by means of the NYCC website.

David Bowe, the county’s corporate director whose responsibilities include highways and transport, and I started this process with a brief update to the September meeting of the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, a key partner for us as we take this initiative forward.

Harrogate is a very successful town, which offers a high quality of life to its residents. We attract growing numbers of business and leisure visitors. Families and firms want to move here because of all we have to offer in education, our natural and built environment, our hotels and guest houses, places of culture and entertainment.

The town enjoys almost full employment.

There are drawbacks to this success including house prices, which are among the highest in the north of England.

We are not building enough new homes.

Any planning application to build a substantial number of dwellings tends to receive far more objections than expressions of support, and the most commonly quoted reason is: “Our roads cannot take any more traffic.”

The county continues to make small-scale improvements to keep traffic flowing, but the last piece of substantial investment in a new road was the Southern Bypass, completed 25 years ago.

Harrogate has effectively to deal with 21st century levels of traffic with a mainly mid-20th century network of roads.

An attempt was made in the 1990s to construct a Western and Northern Bypass but a determined and well-financed campaign of opposition by local residents put a stop to the plans.

It was suggested that a bypass would not solve the town’s congestion problems because most of the traffic came from local journeys by our own residents and was not caused by vehicles on longer journeys past Harrogate.

Recent traffic surveys suggest that was true.

The options before us

The outlook for funding of major transport schemes has improved recently.

The steering group has begun consideration of four options presented by highways officers.

Each option has an indicative route, with a forecast of its effect on traffic volumes on key existing roads in and around the town centre:

l Western Bypass, as proposed in the 1990s. This was presented for completeness but is likely to be discarded for lack of improvement in traffic volumes on existing roads.

l Northern Relief Road, as currently retained, from the A59 junction with the A6161 Otley Road in a wide arc north of Harrogate and Knaresborough to link with the A59 east of Knaresborough at Goldsborough.

l An Inner Northern Relief Road routed between Harrogate and Knaresborough, passing closer to Knaresborough and joining the Southern Bypass at Thistle Hill. This option was presented with and without a link road into Bilton.

l As three but closer to Harrogate, with a link into Bilton.

All four options include a bypass for Killinghall.

We looked closely at the forecasts of traffic flow variances for 2035: between doing nothing (leaving the road network as it is) and doing something.

The options which showed the most positive effects on existing roads were three and four, with a reduction in Skipton Road traffic of up to 40 per cent, up to 30 per cent for Wetherby Road, and a near 30 per cent drop in vehicle movements through Knaresborough.

The following initial decisions were taken:

1. That the Harrogate Relief Road review should consider a complementary package of sustainable transport measures in Harrogate and Knaresborough

2. That it was important that the public was engaged throughout the review process and information be published on a bespoke page on the NYCC website.

Additionally the residents and stakeholders should be informed of this through regular email, social media and press updates. Contact details for feedback and further information should be provided on this webpage.

3. That a report on the HRR Steering Group review be presented to the Friday, November 17, 2016 meeting of the NYCC Harrogate Area Committee

Rebecca Burnett, as HBC cabinet member for sustainable transport, made a strong case for the inclusion of a dedicated cycle path to be included in any highways bid, and we all agreed.

Initial cost estimates start at £70million, but officers are confident that the value for money assessment will be very favourable.

The cost of preparing the bid itself is estimated at over £500,000.

NYCC does have the funding available for this, partly from surpluses generated by on-street parking charges, and partly from other sources.

What are the next steps?

In order to be able to seek Government funding the county council must follow an established process to identify and assess major transport schemes.

First we will test the options against predicted traffic increases resulting from Harrogate Borough Council’s Local Plan.

Next we will narrow down the corridor options, to identify which should be taken forward for more detailed review and appraisal.

This will involve further outline design, feasibility and traffic modelling work. We will consider the planning and environmental constraints and engage in formal public consultation.

The completion of this phase will help to confirm if the existing alignment of the preferred route should be retained or if an alternative relief road corridor should be taken forward to preferred route status.

This is complex and takes time. Assessment of the environmental impact must be undertaken across all seasons to identify the presence of flora and fauna.  

The county council executive, in consultation with the steering group and county area committee for Harrogate, will make the final decision on which, if any, relief road option should be adopted as a preferred route.

At that point, the county council will begin the work to develop an outline business case for the relief road.

Completion of the outline business case will put us in a position to bid for funding from central government.

I would like to see that bid made by the end of next year.