Harrogate Gateway: £7.9m project moves to next design stage for greener town centre
North Yorkshire County Council has agreed to move to the next design stage of the Harrogate Gateway project after a survey showed public support for a town centre less dominated by cars.
With controversial changes on the table including the pedestrianisation of James Street and reduction of Station Parade to one lane of traffic, the county council's executive has today voted in favour of the development of more detailed designs before a business case is drawn up and a final decision is made.
The £7.9m project is part of the government's Transforming Cities Fund and is aiming to create a more attractive entrance to the town with greater priority for pedestrians and cyclists.
There are similar projects being run in Selby and Skipton but transport officials said Harrogate had proved the most contentious due to resistance from some businesses which are worried about the impact on trade.
Speaking at a meeting today, councillor Don Mackenzie, executive member for access, said while he recognised the concerns he believed the Gateway project would make Harrogate a more appealing place to shop and visit.
He said: "We have been lobbied quite strongly by the business community in Harrogate of whom one or two members seem to think the Gateway scheme is intended to make life more difficult for them. Those comments could not be further from the truth.
"The whole purpose behind the Gateway scheme is to make all three of these town centres more attractive to visitors, especially those who want to come and spend money in our shops, restaurants and pubs."
Today's decision follows a recent public consultation which found 45% of 1,101 respondents were in favour of the full pedestrianisation of James Street, while 32% said no changes should be made and 17% backed a partial pedestrianisation.
For Station Parade, 49% favoured an option to reduce traffic to one lane, while 27% said it should be retained as two lanes and 24% said neither option was workable.
Also included in the plans are cycle lanes for East Parade as well improvements to public spaces at One Arch and Station Square which all received positive feedback.
The worry from some businesses is that the removal of parking spaces and traffic lanes will mean busier roads and fewer shoppers.
In a joint statement released last week, Harrogate BID, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and Independent Harrogate said they were "disappointed that our collective voices have not been listened to" and that they felt what is being proposed will have a "hugely damaging effect" on trade.
This came after the county council published a report which said the impact on parking and traffic would be kept to a minimum with just 45 out of 915 parking spaces set to be lost under the project.
The report also said reducing Station Parade to one lane would increase average car journey times by 53 seconds or 1 minute 14 seconds with James Street fully pedestrianised.
Councillor Mackenzie added: "In the past I have had concerns about the effect of one lane on Station Parade... but frankly, when I see the benefits that a one lane scheme can deliver, I believe that small additional extra time is well worth it."
Councillor Michael Harrison, who represents the Lower Nidderdale and Bishop Monkton division, also told today's meeting that while he supported what is being proposed, it was important for the impact on traffic to be a key consideration when a final decision is made.
He said: "This is not just about trying to persuade people to get out of the car - we have got to recognise that this area is a through-route as well.
"If there is a negative impact on travel times then we have got to acknowledge that, quantify it and make sure we have the road system working as efficiently as possible around the scheme.
"That is the right way forward and clearly we are going to do that."
Further public consultation will now take place in autumn following the development of detailed designs and a business case.
If approved, construction could begin in summer 2022 with completion by March 2023.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter