Green change in Harrogate: Are public being consulted and what role do polls play in sustainable transport policy

Harrogate’s progress towards a ‘green’ future really in peril? Recent months have seen each small step the town has tried to take on the journey to more sustainable transport met with increasingly heated debate.

Monday, 27th September 2021, 10:52 am
Work has started on the new cycle path on Otley Road in Harrogate. (Picture Gerard Binks)

And the same few key questions keep on coming to the surface. Is the car lobby trying to stifle measures to reduce the town’s carbon emissions and do our bit to tackle the climate emergency?

Are cycling campaigners pushing their own agenda at other people’s expense?

Will transport changes help or maybe hinder local businesses?

Concern over which direction we are headed has been bubbling away quietly since North Yorkshire County Council took the decision in May to scrap plans for a new segregated cycle path at Oatlands Drive - a sign that the authorities would not necessarily have things all their own way.

To achieve their climate goals - shared by the county council and Harrogate Borough Council and supported financially by the Government - action needs to be taken.

The county council said at the time it remained committed to traffic improvements designed to cut traffic congestion at the same time as carbon emissions.

But some still feared Harrogate was going to go the same way as parts of London where councils such as Ealing have occasionally scrapped measures to bring in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the teeth of hostile campaigns.

That has not happened here in Harrogate... So far.

In fact, last week North Yorkshire County Council stuck to its guns or, at least, postponed the problem, by extending the trial run at Beech Grove where it has been experimenting with Harrogate’s first LTN.

So, with pressure to tackle climate change showing no signs of abating at the highest national level, what stage is Harrogate at when it comes to changing the way we go about our daily lives to bring in sustainable transport measures and what are the likely flashpoints?

1. Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme at Beech Grove:

What’s the idea?

Part of the Government’s Active Travel Fund initiative, Harrogate’s first Low Traffic Neighbourhood was introduced for a trial period in February 2021 by North Yorkshire County Council.

By preventing non-residential through traffic from entering the road, the aim is to create quieter streets where residents feel safer when walking and cycling - as well as easing congestion and improving air quality.

What’s the progress?

Opposition to the LTN has persisted with complaints that the traffic problem has been forced onto surrounding streets.

Last week saw North Yorkshire County Council rejecting a 770-signature strong petition calling for the trial to be abandoned.

What happens next?

The county council has extended the Beech Grove trial period until August next year.

In addition, it has announced plans to introduce a one-way traffic filter on the nearby Victoria Road.

This latest restriction will be trialled from this month and involves vehicles being prevented from leaving on to Otley Road by a barrier blocking traffic.

2. Harrogate Station

Gateway:

What’s the idea?

A £10.9 million project funded by the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund (TCF), Gateway aims to make it easier, safer and quicker for people to travel on foot, by bike and by public transport by funding improved transport connections in the town centre.

Among the proposals are:

A better-linked public transport hub for trains and buses;

A more welcoming town centre for visitors arriving by public transport;

An increase in safe space for people on foot;

A new flexible public events space;

Two new bus priority areas at Lower Station Parade and Cheltenham Parade;

One and two lane options for vehicular traffic on Station Parade;

Three different options for vehicular traffic on James Street ranging from no change or partial pedestrianisation to full pedestrianisation;

New cycle lanes and cycle storage facilities;

Road junction upgrades.

What’s the progress?

Working hand-in-hand with Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council has already carried out one phase of public consultation, running into strong opposition from parts of the town’s business community.

What happens next?

Final design decisions have not yet been made by the county council and public feedback and input will help to shape the final scheme.

Further public consultation will take place from October 18.

If approved, construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2022 with completion by March 2023.

3. Otley Road cycle path:

What’s the idea?

Part of the Government’s £4.6m award to North Yorkshire County Council from the National Productivity Investment Fund for sustainable transport in the west of Harrogate.

The idea of a new Otley Road two-way cycle path with junction improvements is designed to enhance safety and alleviate congestion, partly in the context of new housing developments in the area.

What’s the progress?

The funding for the new cycle path was first secured back in 2017 but the project was hit by a series of delays, from drawn-out discussions with worried residents to works from utility companies on the main road.

Work on the scheme on the B6162 between College Street and Arthurs Avenue finally began this week.

What happens next?

The cycle route, which is expected to be completed by the end of this November, will utilise the wide footpath and verges of Otley Road, taking cyclists on both sides of the road and, wherever possible, segregated.

The work will entail weeks of temporary traffic lights and road closures and parts of the project are likely to extend into 2022.

4. Cycle paths for Victoria Avenue and the A59 from Knaresborough:

What’s the idea?

Part of a bid to create a new cycling network in Harrogate to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions, North Yorkshire County Council first raised the idea of a new cycle path on the A59 (Harrogate Road, Knaresborough) between Badger Mount and Maple Close and Victoria Avenue near the County Court, between the A61 (West Park) and Station Parade, last year.

What’s the progress?

Both cycle paths required cash from the Government’s Active Travel Fund programme.

That secured, a design review for the Victoria Avenue scheme will be held on September 30.

As for the A59 one, that is still at the design stage.

What happens next?

Although both projects are expected to run over the funding deadline, the Government has already accepted the inevitability of some delays during the Covid pandemic.

Subject to the programme running to schedule, construction of the Victoria Avenue cycle path will begin in June 2022 and be completed in July 2022.

Work on the A59 cycle path is scheduled to begin in February 2022 and be completed in March 2022.

5. Oatlands Drive cycle path:

What’s the idea?

When details of the county council’s plans for an Oatlands Drive cycle path were revealed in February 2021, they were intended to play a key part in its long-term vision of a safe, non-car travel link for all from that side of Harrogate, encompassing the key links from Harrogate Showground, Hornbeam Park and the secondary schools into the town centre, and complementing sister projects such as the Gateway project and a new Victoria Avenue cycle path.

What’s the progress?

After protests from local residents against the one-way system and the 20mph speed limit the plan would require and claims it would increase congestion in neighbouring streets, the county council halted the process in May.

What happens next?

Having set up a feasibility study into how cycling and walking fit into the traffic situation in the wider area round Oatlands Drive, the report is scheduled to be made public over the coming few weeks.

North Yorkshire transport leader Coun Don Mackenzie on public consultation on Gatweay project in Harrogate

The biggest project to bring sustainable transport to Harrogate town centre has also proven one of the most contentious.

The £10.9 million Harrogate Gateway plans, which are scheduled to be completed by March 2023, have already run into trouble with local businesses and business groups, including Harrogate BID, who are troubled by the idea of new car restrictions in the Station Parade area.

But Coun Don Mackenzie says public consultation had been central to the project from the beginning. Indeed, a new round of consultation is about to begin in October.

Coun Mackenzie said: “We undertook an extensive public consultation earlier this year on our initial proposals, in which all residents and businesses were able to give their views.

“This included events specifically designed to enable business groups, including Harrogate BID, to give their feedback.

“A further consultation will be launched in October which all residents and businesses will be able to comment on our revised Gateway proposals.”