'Disappointment' as hopes of outdoor dining and drinking on Harrogate's Stray dashed
Harrogate councillors have expressed disappointment after hopes that hospitality businesses could use the Stray this summer were dashed by legal complications.
There was widespread optimism that reopening restaurants, pubs and cafes could be given outdoor dining space when Harrogate council revealed the plans in March but historic laws protecting the parkland have since thrown up a series of challenges.
As landowners by law, the Duchy of Lancaster is guided by the Stray Act to ensure access to all residents and visitors.
The body had entered into negotiations with the council but took a firm stance that use of the Stray for commercial purposes, except for some large events, was not permitted by the Act.
And while the debate rumbled on as Harrogate MP Andrew Jones intervened with calls for further flexibility, the bad news for businesses was all but confirmed until a meeting on Monday when a senior council official said the authority had stopped pursuing the plans.
Trevor Watson, director of economy and culture at Harrogate council, said: "I certainly share the view that the Stray potentially provides a fantastic opportunity to help businesses come out of a very difficult period.
"But our custodian role for the Stray is to ensure it is maintained free and open for the use of all rather than what appears to be the use of all but effectively is for the use of individuals visiting an individual commercial premises."
Councillor Pat Marsh said she was "very disappointed" by the decision.
"The Stray is for the people and we must remember that," she said.
Councillor Chris Aldred added: "At the start of lockdown everybody seemed to be in favour of this happening and then suddenly it got lost in bureaucracy somewhere.
"We really do need to look at how we use the Stray in the future. As a council that should be one of our priorities to see it developed for everyone."
Mr Watson responded: "Whilst I share some of the frustrations, it is not bureaucracy, it is legislation. The terms of the legislation we have got to work with are very restrictive.
"It is essentially what is wrapped up in the Stray Act that has led to the view that we should encourage its use for open and regular enjoyment but not perhaps for the benefit of individual businesses."
The idea of businesses using the Stray was put forward to help those with little or no room for outdoor dining under the current lockdown restrictions.
The Duchy of Lancaster said in a statement that while it was keen to support the economic recovery, the Stray "exists for the benefit of all the people of Harrogate," not just certain businesses.
It said: "Harrogate Borough Council is responsible for the management of the Stray in accordance with the Stray Act.
"The Duchy has no legal grounds to object to management proposals permitted by the Act.
"It is not the role of the Duchy to act as arbitrator in what should be a local discussion among the affected stakeholders."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter