Dear Reader: Return of parking charges + why libraries matter

A weekly column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Sunday, 15th May 2016, 4:35 pm
The Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

What’s the point of ‘consultation’ if the authorities carry on afterwards as if it hasn’t taken place?

As long as a year ago Harrogate Chamber of Trade condemned plans by North Yorkshire County Council to introduce on-street parking charges for evenings and Sundays for the first time.

Shopkeepers complained, readers complained, venues complained, even church leaders complained.

Balance is the watchword of any good newspaper but I’ve struggled personally to find a single person outside of the political realm who is enthusiastic about the idea.

Which is probably why, come January of this year, the plans were put on hold.

But now they’re back. Worryingly, the NYCC’s aims seem to be chiming with those of the Town Centre Masterplan, another grand vision which has gained little support among the public, though this time the fingerprints are those of Harrogate Borough Council.

I’m sure there are good intentions behind forcing drivers away from on-street parking towards public car parks but the fact the council is describing this new regime as a part of a “rationalisation” programme doesn’t instil much confidence.

I guess visitors might enjoy a town centre with fewer or, ultimately, no cars at all.

But, as someone who has lived here for nearly 30 years, I can say with confidence if these changes go ahead they will deter people who actually live here from coming into town as regularly as at present.

The most scary place for me when I was a child wasn’t the house of the woman at number 22 who was supposedly a witch or the headmaster’s imposing, wood-panelled office, it was the public library.

A temple of silence, woe betide anyone who so much as said a word.

Even breathing seemed to be risking a telling off from a member of staff or, worse, instant ejection.

What a difference a generation or two makes.

As well as the books, the DVDs and the precious documents and archive material stored in Harrogate’s impressive Carnegie library, you can also spot people leafing through the papers, browsing online or sipping a coffee.

I even saw a group of teenagers in there chomping on their sandwiches the other weekend as they merrily chatted.

The interesting thing was they were doing so quietly.

In these days where the ultimate survival of such a valuable service must be in some doubt, it’s noticeable that libraries remain one of the few places left where people of all age groups, all genders and all socio-economic groups can be found co-existing happily in the same space.

Perhaps that explains the respect they still retain from teenagers too young to know any better, as if traces of the spirit of the libraries of my youth linger on.