North Yorkshire County Council is to examine potential solutions to congestion problems in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
The authority has announced that it is to look at options including sustainable transport improvements, an inner relief road and measures to manage demand in detail.
This work is expected to take until summer next year and, when complete, a decision will be taken about public consultation on more detailed options with the 48,000 households in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
A 12-week consultation planned to start later this month will not go ahead.
The decision to do further study was taken at a meeting today, Friday, December 15, of the Corporate Director for Business and Environmental Services (BES) and the BES Executive Members.
Last week, members of the county council’s Harrogate District Area Committee called for detailed development of a package of sustainable transport measures only and for only those measures to be taken to public consultation, abandoning consideration of a relief road.
The importance of the view of the Area Committee as a consultee was recognised at today’s meeting, which also heard from several campaigners who spoke in favour of sustainable transport measures, behavioural change and against the relief road option.
However, it was felt that discounting at this stage a package that includes the relief road option could mean any business case for funding would not meet Department for Transport guidelines. These include public consultation on all potential options, as public acceptability of any proposal is an important consideration.
David Bowe, Corporate Director for BES, made today’s decision under delegated authority in consultation with BES cabinet members, Councillors Don Mackenzie and Andrew Lee.
He said: “We were looking at consulting on too little information. It was not precise enough for people to take a considered view. We have to develop the right thing for the people of Harrogate and Knaresborough and follow the Department for Transport process to allow us to be competitive in any bid for national funds.”
As well as developing sustainable transport measures, he asked for further work on the relief road option to refine the route to help to identify what sort of impact it could have. The work could also identify whether a relief road option would meet the DfT’s minimum economic expectations for such a project and could inform a decision on whether to proceed with it at that stage.
“It is more important that we get this right than that we rush it,” said Mr Bowe.
Coun Mackenzie said: “I am not wedded to a relief road, I am wedded to reducing congestion for Harrogate and Knaresborough, which causes air quality problems and problems for local businesses. Many of our businesses rely on visitors, many of whom arrive by road and we don’t want them to face congestion.”
He added: “While there was a call from speakers for improved bus services, let us not forget that, for example, between Harrogate and Knaresborough there are very regular bus services by two operators with plenty of empty seats.”
He said sustainable transport and demand management measures would need a carrot and stick approach to encourage people to use public transport, walk or cycle and discourage them from using their cars. As well as looking at such things as an improved cycle network and pedestrian schemes, options now to be considered in greater detail could include steep increases in parking charges, the extension of on-street parking charges, congestion charging and other measures.
“There are some difficult decisions ahead,” he said.
Coun Lee said: “This proposal is about canvassing people’s views and I think that’s the right thing to do. I respect the views of the people who have come here today and their right to voice them, but I also want to hear what other people have to say.”
While the more detailed study is under way, a wider engagement group will be established, bringing in more organisations and businesses, to feed back to the steering group. The results of the study will go back to the Harrogate District Area Committee.
Today’s meeting also received a petition of more than 2,400 signatures to “Save Nidd Gorge and Nidderdale Greenway” cycleway.
David Bowe responded: “If we ever got to the stage where we were in a position to build a relief road, none of us would wish to destroy the Nidd Gorge itself or the Nidderdale Greenway.”