Harrogate Town Centre Survey: How much has changed since we asked the public for their views on the future of the town

Two years ago this week, The Harrogate Advertiser revealed the results of its Town Centre Survey - a comprehensive online questionnaire designed to find out what the people of our town really thought and desperately wanted.
Shops in Oxford Street in Harrogate.Shops in Oxford Street in Harrogate.
Shops in Oxford Street in Harrogate.

Town Centre survey issues still stand now as Harrogate awaits improvements and changesToday’s world may differ greatly due to coronavirus, but our wide-ranging results of what Harrogate people thought remain just as pertinent.

Then, as now, People were desperately worried about footfall in the retail sector, shop closures and empty premises.

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Close to 1,000 readers filled in our survey, identifying a range of problems and solutions in the hope that action might be taken by the relevant authorities.

The Harrogate Advertiser’s aim with the survey was not to pre-empt decision-making. It was to give the public its own voice in the debate, a real say in what seemed like the potential for positive change.

We believe the results still make fascinating reading today.

Harrogate Advertiser Town Centre Survey results (2018): What Harrogate people think...


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Which of these best describes how often you use the town centre?

A: Every day - 31.6%

B: Once a week - 43.6%

C: Once a fortnight - 10.1%

D: Once a month - 6.9%

E: Other - 8.5%

What do you come into town for? (Tick as many as you like)

A: Leisure - 56.1%

B: Food shopping - 51.7%

C: Clothes shopping - 68.7%

D: Banking - 59.9%

E: Restaurants and eating out - 75.6%

How often do you shop online?

A: Every day - 7.8%

B: Once a week - 34.7%

C: Once a fortnight - 18.0%

D: Once a month - 25.5%

E: Other - 0.8%

Do you use the town’s independent shops, bars, cafes and restaurants?

A: Yes - 88.1%

B: No - 11.9%

Would you like more pedestrianisation in Harrogate town centre?

A: Yes - 45.3%

B: No - 54.7%

Should there be more public events and live entertainment in the open air in the town centre?

A: Yes - 81.8%

B: No - 18.2%

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Do you think the monthly market in the town centre is good and do you go to it?

A: Yes - 55.4%

B: No - 44.6%

Do you think the different areas of the town centre are well signposted?

A: Yes - 59.6%

B: No - 40.4%

Do you think the town offers a good nightlife?

A: Yes - 74.0%

If you could pick any new shops or stores to open up in Harrogate town centre, what type would they be?

Top 5 answers

1. Women’s clothes shops in general.

2. Zara.

3. John Lewis.

4. Independent boutiques and shops.

5. A covered market.

If you could pick any type of food outlet, cafe or restaurant to come to Harrogate, what would it be?

Top 5 answers

1. Pret a Manger.

2. KFC.

3. None - there’s too many already.

4. Mexican street food.

5. More local and independents.

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Most people who replied to our Town Centre survey were positive about the future but the challenges to the retail sector and food and drink businesses in Harrogate are there to see.

A total of 7.8% may say they shop online every day, which may suggest the threat of consumers’ changing habits is minor.

But the survey figures also show only a third of our respondents use the town centre on a daily basis.

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Even more worryingly, less than a majority (43.6%) use it once a week.

The results suggest underlying weaknesses in Harrogate town centre beyond the nationwide online threat from giants like Amazon.


The biggest negative factor in a negative public view of Harrogate town centre is the perception of empty shops itself.

Comment after comment in the replies to our survey highlighted empty shops as one of the worst things about the town centre.


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Perhaps surprisingly for a town with a reputation for its beauty, a high proportion of the other main problems highlighted in the survey concern the physical appearance of the town centre.

Harrogate’s green spaces and architecture may figure highly in the survey’s top five best things about the town centre but next in the list of worries was the following: congested roads and too many cars, beggars, drunks and anti-social behaviour, litter and dirty streets and ‘lifeless’ pedestrianised areas.


The two most popular ideas for improving the town centre suggest the Harrogate public are as aware of the issues in the retail sector as the retail sector itself.

1. Lower rents or business rents for town centre shops, bars and businesses.

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2. More public events and outdoors entertainment in the town centre.


On a positive note, the survey’s results also show the town’s independents are well used and liked and further support and a higher presence and/or profile would likely to be welcomed.


Our survey shows there is support for more park and ride schemes but the survey also reveals that another possible way of addressing people’s concerns could prove politically divisive if put into practice.

People may want less congested roads but, when we asked about pedestrianisation in our Town Centre Survey, 54.7% said they were against it.

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There were few demands among respondents for a new bypass or relief road.

And for every person calling for cars to be banned, there was another one callling for free or cheaper parking.


In terms of which type of shops people would like to see more of how, there are two clear winners - quality women’s fashion shops (Zara was mentioned dozens of times) and more independents.

Also showing strongly was John Lewis, the one shop that seems to unite everyone!


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The word ‘market’ pops up regularly in the survey replies but there seems to be no universal theme about what to so about it.

The top market-related ideas are:

Different members of the public raised, variously, the following idea:

Make the monthly market on Cambridge Street weekly.

Improve Victoria Shopping Centre by allowing smaller independents in.

Built a covered market.

Give more space to Harrogate Christmas Market.


For all the support for the town’s independents, the survey suggests the public’s love of ‘chains’ is changing, not dying.

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When asked which type of food outlet, cafe or restaurant they would most like to come to Harrogate, the most popular answer is international sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger.

Other popular answers include American fast food restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King.

In yet another example of residents’ common sense, the second highest response to the question was that there are too many restaurants in Harrogate already.

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1. Rent and rates

Reduce rents and keep rates reasonable so more shops will open.

Cut the business rates. They’re ridiculously high. I don’t know anyone can afford the business rates in this climate.

2. Independents

Encourage unusual and independent businesses in a market-style setting with products you can’t get online.

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Harrogate is a beautiful place and would really benefit from quirky little independent shops in the town centre like The Shambles in York.

3. Pop-up shops and small businesses

Give small and independent businesses the chance to operate trial pop-ups in empty premises.

Then incentivise them to open permanently (lower rates, mentoring, assistance etc).

4. Outdoors life

Have a water area or large area with seats like Bradford for hot days where people can gather and cool down. It would be great to have an outdoor eating space. Convert the parking area in Princes Square into a Mediterranean-style piazza with a fountain surrounded by cafe bars serving Aperol spritz.

5. Markets

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Improved regular markets, possibly with different focuses, for example, vintage, cheap fruit and veg. Stall holders from Knaresborough and Ripon markets could be used.

6. Harrogate Christmas Market

Why does it have to be squeezed into such a tiny space? It’s near impossible to browse the stalls.

Instead, host the Christmas Market inside Harrogate Convention Centre.

7. Change Victoria Shopping Centre

Redesign Victoria Shopping Centre to allow for smaller units for independent stores, much like it was when it first opened.

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Include a nice bar with a balcony at Victoria Shopping Centre and, perhaps, an indoor/outdoor space at the centre for market stalls and hosting special promotions like Trinity Shopping Centre does in Leeds.

8. Leisure

Open a bowling alley or ice skating rink which would bring people/families into Harrogate.

9. Park and ride

Have a park and ride at Pannal and the Great Yorkshire Showground and near Ripley.

10. Change Station Parade area

Upgrade the train and bus station areas, add cycle lanes and wider pavements.

11. Litter

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Businesses should be encouraged to keep the area outside their building clean.

In Spain all the streets are swept and washed daily by the businesses.

We may not have the biggest shopping centre but we could have the most pleasant to visit.

12. Events

Hold regular events outside Victoria Shopping Centre and/or the Stray on Montpellier.

13. Street Ambassadors

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There should be the police or community volunteers on foot in the town centre to assist people on where to go or if they need help.

14. Parking

Limit all town centre parking to one hour but make all on-street parking free. This will improve turnover and encourage people to pop into the town centre.

15. Pedestrianisation

More pedestriansiation in the town centre. James Street and Parliament Street should be pedestrianised.

16. Renovate Oxford Street/Cambridge Street

Renovate the pedestrianised Oxford/Cambridge Street areas making their surfaces safer for all.

17. Revive Harrogate’s spa reputation

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Let’s truly make Harrogate a spa town offering lots of different treatments, health waters to drink etc.

Add a lovely water feature on Oxford Street to make that area prettier like krynica in Poland.

18. Move the indies into the heart of Harrogate

See if we can persuade some of the small indies which are slightly out of town to move into the centre with cheaper rates/rents.

19. Buses

Have a hop on/hop off bus to join up the different shopping areas in Harrogate town centre to make it easier for people with young people and the elderly to access areas like Montpellier and Cold Bath Road.

20. New Harrogate Borough Council policies

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The council should offer a discount scheme with local businesses to get staff to use multi-story which are often empty.

The council should support start-ups and existing businesses better.

Give the elected councillors a big shake and make them better understand what local people and businesses really think/want.

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