Despite last week's announcement by transport authority North Yorkshire County Council to hold a third round of consultation in response to rising opposition to Gateway plans based on fears over the impact on town centre, the risk of the project's leaders missing the deadline to spend the million of pounds set aside by the Government has reduced rather than increased.
The Harrogate Advertiser has learnt that the money identified previously in the Department of Transport's Transforming Cities Fund - which came with a cut-off point of March 2023 - has now been subsumed into a new package of transport investment across the region which has a later deadline.
There may now be fears in Harrogate's business world that the new consultation means work to pedestrianise part of James Street and reduce some traffic on Station Parade will not get going until this winter, when it might disrupt the Christmas shopping season.
But that does not mean the consultation will necessarily scupper the whole project.
The end of lockdown has seen a range of changes to the Government's previously announced plans for investment in transport.
The changed state of affairs was announced by Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, in a statement to Parliament in April.
As part of national plans settlements to improve the local transport networks of eight city regions across England totalling £830million in West Yorkshire alone over the next five years, she revealed that new and existing Government funds, including Highways Maintenance, Integrated Transport Block and final year Transforming Cities Fund, would now be combined.
This week a spokesperson for North Yorkshire County Council confirmed that the Transforming Cities Fund enacted by the Department for Transport has been subsumed into the new City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement Fund, which has availed mayoral combined authorities increased project delivery periods.
As a result, the spokesperson added, by association the North Yorkshire Transforming Cities Fund projects, which are within the West Yorkshire Combined Authority programme, are now targeted for completion a whole year later in spring 2024.
The latest revelations follow growing controversy over a project which was sparked by the results of a major public survey in 2019 showing the vast majority of people who took part in the consultation favoured sustainable transport solutions to Harrogate's traffic congestion problems.
But as the proposed designs of the £10.9m Harrogate Gateway project were revealed, opposition has built up from the business world, initially, to its details but, later, to almost the whole idea.
A joint poll of businesses carried out last summer by Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, Harrogate BID and Independent Harrogate showed the majority of those who responded were against the plans in Gateway to reduce the A61 from Cheltenham Parade to Station Bridge to a single carriageway and pedestrianise James Street.
A second official public consultation launched by the county council over four weeks in October 2021 showed, for the first time, a majority of 55% to 45% of the 1,320 people who completed the online survey on the Gateway were now against the designs for the Government-funded scheme.
But the beginning of 2022 saw the ten members of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive stick to their guns and finally decide to press on with the project in the full knowledge that all three of the town’s leading business groups are opposed to most of its key measures.
But opposition has not gone away since that decision. Some voices have even been been raised with threats of mounting a legal challenge to the Harrogate Gateway project.
Announcing a third public consultation last week, Karl Battersby, North Yorkshire County Council's corporate director of business and environmental services, said: “We received significant feedback as part of the two consultation exercises carried out thus far, and we are grateful that local residents and businesses have engaged with this project.
"While there has been no formal legal challenge in response to issues raised regarding the consultation last autumn, we acknowledge that the impact of the changes on traffic levels and traffic flows were key issues that were raised as part of the consultation.
"We intend to provide further information on those aspects as well as consulting on the formal traffic regulation orders, which would be required to carry out the changes on James Street and Station Parade.
“The results of the consultation will be fully considered before a final decision is made on whether to submit the business case to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to secure the funding."