Is Harrogate’s summer of discontent just a natural case of letting off steam or does it indicate that the town has lost something significant?
‘Let’s work together to make Harrogate shine again’
Are some of this newspaper’s readers, who have put pen to paper recently, correct to suggest that Harrogate’s days as one of the best towns to live in across the UK are coming to an end?
Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper, for one, is having none of that sort of talk. He said: “Yes, we have our problems. There is more we can and should do but Harrogate is a fantastic place to live.”
Some Harrogate Advertiser readers have raised concerns that the town centre is looking “scruffy.”
The council leader says more needs to be done but adds there is a lot more going on in that department than the public might realise.
He said: “The council will be deep-cleaning more streets soon and we also want to put more cash in to improving our street furniture, for example, re-painting lamp posts where they are peeling.
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“Last year, we refurbished most of the benches in the town centre and re-painted the black and gold bollards.
“We take care of our parks and gardens which regularly win national awards. We have replaced almost all the tatty old waste bins with new ones.
And Coun Cooper also promised targeted action on litter at takeaways.
He said: “I am concerned about the state of the paths outside takeaways. It is evident that there is more rubbish, more chewing gum and more deep stains in the paving stones outside these establishments.
“I want to look at a way of making these establishments responsible for additional cleaning outside their premises.”
When asked for their opinions on whether Harrogate had stopped being special, a wide cross-section of voices argued the opposite was the case.
No one denied that improvements had to be made but they all made the point that most of the things which created the town’s high reputation were still going strong.
Even when complaining about anti-social behaviour and trouble, Harrogate Theatre’s chief executive David Bown stressed he thought Harrogate was still an “amazing place” and a great place to live and visit.
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But he called for more support to transform the town centre for the better.
He said: “Investment, protection and support are vital for the good of the local economy and the continued success of this amazing town.”
Andrew Stewart, owner of 108 Fine Art, one of Harrogate’s leading galleries said: “Not so long ago Harrogate was widely known as the antique centre of the North but it has re-invented itself to cater for wider, contemporary tastes, quickly becoming established as one of the top hot-spots in the country for restaurants, boutique shops and galleries as well as its reputation for beautiful parks and diverse cultural events.
“The increasing growth of independent shops and businesses outside of the centre has also breathed new life into the town.
“Although internet shopping continues to unsettle the balance of what the top end of the town centre is used for, there is now the chance to show Harrogate’s ambition, sense of community and willingness to embrace the new.”
Judy d’Arcy Thompson, chair of the Stray Defence Association, which protects the town’s historic parkland, said: “For me Harrogate is the Jewel in Yorkshire’s crown.
“Harrogate is beautiful, not least because of its stunning Stray. Where else do you find such a vast expanse of green in the very heart of a town that people are free to use?
“We also have an incredible history, fabulous theatres and art galleries, some very special shops and a huge variety of restaurants and hotels.
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“But what we don’t want is for Harrogate to become just another town; a depressing, dismal mess of dirty disorder and grimly cheap outlets that people don’t want to spend time in.”
Jemima Parker, chair of local environmental pressure group Zero Carbon Harrogate pointed to the encouraging ways in which Harrogate was in the process of changing for the better. And she said the level of debate showed that people in Harrogate cared deeply for their town.
She said: “One of the great things about Harrogate is people speak up and get involved.
“Great advances are being made here on climate change by local businesses and the council.
“Over 10,000 people have responded to North Yorkshire County Council’s traffic congestion survey, hundreds turned out to walk the Nidd Gorge cycle path to show their support for protecting this beautiful ancient woodland.
“People care about these places. And they care about the people who live here.
“This is what makes Harrogate a great place to live.”
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The State of our retail sector:
Complaint: Empty shops and scruffy streets.
Reality: Some retail units on central Harrogate streets such as Station Parade and Oxford Street and Cambridge Street have been empty for more than a year.
Figures show retail unit vacancies in Harrogate town centre have risen overall but only from 8.3% in June 2017 to 9.9% just under two years later.
Still, concerns over the future of Harrogate town centre in an era of online shopping and the collapse of national chains meant businesses voted last November to set up Harrogate BID (Business Improvement District).
It’s initial business plan funded by local businesses themselves to the tune of £500,000 per year for the next five years includes the aim of keeping the town centre safe and clean, increasing customer footfall and encouraging new independent shops to open.
Harrogate BID’s manager Elizabeth Murphy, is due to take up her post this month but some businesses are impatient for action.
Nearly 50 independents recently launched an online petition calling for more free parking.
Harrogate Borough Council says it is committed to improving the tidiness of the town centre and has pledged the cash to do so.
Last year it gave the streets a “deep clean”, removing most of the chewing gum, something it is set to repeat.
Council leader Coun Richard Cooper, Coun Tim Myatt and Coun Paul Haslam even went out weeding and spraying last Sunday evening.
The State of our Homelessness:
Complaint: More street beggars and rough sleepers.
Reality: If there wasn’t a problem would the new Harrogate Street Aid initiative be in the offing in a joint effort by Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire Police and Harrogate Homeless Project?
But the problem of ‘homelessness’ is more one of perception than reality in Harrogate’s case.
The fact is Harrogate Borough Council already works in close co-operation with other specialist support agencies to help the homeless, in particular with local charity Harrogate Homeless Project.
The latter operates 365 days a year, offering a 16-bed hostel for adults to stay in and a five-bed emergency bed scheme, where overnight shelter and support is provided. For those not willing to access emergency shelter they provide sleeping bags and warm clothing as well as warm snacks and drinks overnight, from their hostel on Bower Street.
The council carries out an annual rough sleeper count each winter.
In 2017, it identified 14 individuals sleeping rough.
In the most recent one, that figure fell to seven.
Part of the problem is that many people begging in the town centre do, in fact, have accomodation and are already in receipt of benefits.
Others refuse support or are denied because of drink and drug problems.
Some travel to Harrogate precisely because the public are so generous towards beggars in the town and set up in the town centre precisely because they make more money there.
Local agencies claim there is no need for the genuinely homeless to either beg or sleep on the streets.
The fundamental aim of Harrogate Street Aid is to ensure cash goes to help people not be on the streets rather than keeping them there.
The State of County Lines and violence:
This year in the Harrogate area has been marked by a series of violent incidents, arson attacks and ‘County Lines’ drug-related crimes.
The fact “knife attack” has made such dramatic headlines may actually be a reflection of its rarity value in Harrogate rather than the other way around.
When alarm was expressed around the time of an incident at Valley Gardens, involving teenagers, and another near the Hydro pool at Jennyfield, Harrogate Inspector Penny Taylor pointed out they were unrelated.
Harrogate District Community Safety Group said crime levels in the town were comparatively low and had, in fact, fallen overall since the beginning of the year.
But the fact remains that, in the first three months of the year, Harrogate police made more than 30 arrests for County Lines crimes, the term used to describe a form of organised crime where criminals based in urban areas pressure vulnerable people and children into transporting, storing and selling drugs in smaller county towns such as Harrogate.
Whatever the successes of the police, another story earlier this week saying “two men taken to hospital after Harrogate knifing attack” was based on an incident which took place on Strawberry Dale Road doesn’t make for happy reading.
The State of anti-social behaviour in Harrogate:
Complaint: Anti-social behaviour on the streets.
Reality: Two hot spots of concern have led to headlines in the Harrogate Advertiser in recent weeks, one in the town centre, one further out.
Traders on Oxford Street have been alarmed by the growth of street begging which, according to them, has also led to abuse, drunkness and mess.
Even Harrogate Theatre’s chief executive David Bown has felt compelled to break the silence on goings-on.
It’s been noticable that Harrogate Police have increased their presence in the area recently.
The possible launch of the Harrogate Street Aid scheme is also aimed partly at tackling anti-social behaviour in the town centre.
Residents at Jennyfield have also expressed alarm over anti-social behaviour in their neighbourhood located between Ripon Road and Skipton Road.
A recent meeting with the police saw some residents call for an immediate crackdown on crime, following a spate of vandalism and anti-social behaviour, an arson attack at Saltergate Primary School, and a violent incident outside The Hydro swimming pool.
Inspector Penny Taylor of Harrogate Neighbourhood Policing Team said Jennyfields had a higher level of proactive policing activity compared to the rest of Harrogate and called on parents to ensure the good behaviour of their children.
She said: “Jennyfields is subject to a higher proportion of proactive policing activity when compared to the rest of Harrogate, this includes the use of dispersal orders and regular, high visibility patrols.
“We completely understand the frustrations of local people. But parents must also take responsibility for their children.”
Harrogate District Community Safety Group also issued a statement to reassure residents. A spokesperson said: “Harrogate remains a very safe place to live, work and visit.”
Inspector Taylor also said police were working with local authority partners to “deal with young people who are at risk of getting involved in crime.”