Harrogate councillor: 'Pedestrianisation of James Street would be best thing that could ever happen to it'
A Harrogate councillor has declared his support for the pedestrianisation of James Street saying it would be "the best thing that could ever happen to it".
Conservative councillor Paul Haslam, who has worked as a retail director and lecturer for the last 24 years, said he is backing the proposal under the £7.9m Gateway project because it is a key part of the "bigger picture" to try revive Harrogate's high streets after years of shop closures and Covid impacts.
He said James Street should not be seen as an isolated issue but part of wider plans to attract more visitors to the town, including improved public transport links and a potential £47m refurbishment of Harrogate Convention Centre.
"I very much welcome the pedestrianisation of James Street although I am understanding of the concerns and misgivings from some businesses," councillor Haslam said.
"The decline of high-street retail has become more and more true for Harrogate, and it has now been accelerated by Covid which has ultimately been the kiss of death for some businesses.
"One of the things we have got to stop this hollowing out of the town is the town centre plan. Within that we have the Gateway project, but also the conference centre refurbishment and more regular trains running from places like London to bring more people in.
"These are all part of a bigger picture and I believe the pedestrianisation of James Street will absolutely fit in and be perfect for the Gateway project."
North Yorkshire County Council is behind the Gateway project and is seeking views on either a full or partial pedestrianisation of James Street, as well as an option to make no changes.
The aim is to cut carbon emissions by making Harrogate more accessible for pedestrians, cyclists and those using public transport, with changes to street space and the potential of Station Parade being reduced to one lane also being proposed.
The plans have won the support of many campaigners, however, some business leaders have raised concerns over the impact on trade.
Independent Harrogate, which represents 187 town centre businesses, has this week published its response to plans, saying James Street must remain open to vehicles and that Station Parade should also retain its two lanes.
Harrogate BID (Business Improvement District) also said it "broadly welcomed" the overall aims of the scheme but urged caution over the "fragile state" of the town centre economy.
Councillor Haslam, who represents the Bilton area on both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council, said while he was understanding of these concerns, he believes giving greater priority to pedestrians and cyclists will not only help cut carbon emissions but also increase the amount of time people spend in the town.
He said: "Cars spend on average around 93% of their lives parked up yet we build whole towns and cities around them. This is madness. There are much cheaper, better and healthier ways we can get around in the future.
"But if we are making it easier for people to get into town, we also need to make it more attractive to increase dwell time - and that is what the Gateway project does.
"Great retailers are an essential part of any high street and I want to encourage their continued presence, but I appreciate they must adapt in these changing times.
"The council is trying to provide the framework to attract visitors and customers to maintain a thriving town centre for the future benefit for all. This is part of that journey."
A public consultation on the plans ends today. To have your say go to www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/harrogate
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter