Harrogate Gateway: 'Legal action is is still possible' says man leading battle to halt controversial town centre plans

A FOI obtained by the Harrogate Advertiser reveals for the first time the impact a possible legal challenge has made on the town's troubled Gateway project to transform the town centre.

By Graham Chalmers
Tuesday, 12th July 2022, 12:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th July 2022, 12:53 pm

Recent months have seen mounting opposition from Harrogate business leaders to the £10.9 million scheme to introduce new pedestrianisation and cycle lanes - with rumours and threats of legal action.

The results of the Advertiser's Freedom of Information request throw light on as yet secret battle behind the scenes to block the long-delayed sustainable transport project.

Will the Gateway proposals for traffic in the two centre solve Harrogate's congestion problems? Harrogate businessman Chris Bentley believes not.

The findings show that one of Harrogate's biggest commercial property companies has, in fact, already submitted a proposed claim for judicial review against North Yorkshire County Council's decision to agree to submit a final business case for the Government funding required for the £10.9 million scheme to introduce new pedestrianisation and cycle lanes.

A series of letters between lawyers from Hornbeam Park Developments (HPD) and the county council earlier this year reveal that, although no court proceedings have been actioned, the threat of such has played a role in a year's delay in Harrogate Gateway's deadline for completion from April 2023 to April 2024.

Some observers may have been wondering why North Yorkshire County Council agreed to launch a third public consultation.

The series of letters seen by the Harrogate Advertiser between February and April 2022 indicates part of the reason may have been the proposed claim for judicial review by Hornbeam Park Developments.

Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser, Chris Bentley, the managing director of Hornbeam Park Developments Ltd, said the saga was far from over and neither was the battle to block Gateway.

Mr Bentley said: "The (legal) threat still exists. At the end of the day I don't believe the Gateway project is the right thing to do.

"It's a waste of money and it is at the wrong time.

"To changes a major arterial road in the middle of Harrogate from two lanes to a single lane is madness.

"It will cause more congestion, not less, and it will be bad for business.

"I'm fronting up business voices against Gateway because I rigorously oppose it.

"But, although I am putting my name to it, and am happy to do so, I am not on my own.

"I have the support of other business people with deeper pockets than me.

"There will be a legal challenge if this is not stopped."

The main bone of contention between Hornbeam Park Developments and North Yorkshire County Council illustrated by the results of the Harrogate Advertiser's FOI lies in the second round of public consultation held by the county council in October and November 2021.

The property firm claims the way the consultation was conducted was inadequate as it lacked "sufficient reasons for and information upon particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response."

It also challenged a decision by the county council's executive in January 2022 to agree to take the controversial scheme forward by submitting a final business case for funding from the Government's Transforming Cities Fund - despite the second consultation showing that more respondents felt ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’ (56%) than felt ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ (39%) about the Gateway project.

The central claim that the executive's decision was, therefore, "unlawful" in both regards has not yet been tested in law, according to the FOI.

In a letter of March 18, 2022, lawyers for the North Yorkshire responded to the claims by denying categorically that the second consultation was "unlawful".

But, in a sign of the county council's possible concern over the matter, the letter also agrees to a new consultation and a delay in implementing the decision to plough ahead with Gateway its own executive made in January this year.

The letter said: "The council does not accept that the second consultation was unlawful, however for reasons of expediency and to avoid an unnecessary formal challenge, the Council’s Chief Executive and Corporate Director for Business and Environment will agree not to implement the decision of the 25th January 2022 in so far as it relates to the TCF Scheme for Harrogate."