Harrogate’s £11.2 million Station Gateway project ‘on life support but not dead yet’ according to transport boss

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North Yorkshire Council’s transport leader Keane Duncan says he remains hopeful that £11 million of government money will be spent on a transport improvement scheme around Harrogate Station.

But he admits the troubled Station Gateway project will have to be altered for it to stand a chance of succeeding.

In an exclusive interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Conservative councillor gives his first public comments since it was paused last month due to a legal challenge from Hornbeam Park Developments.

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We asked him questions including how the council got into this situation, whether it has failed cyclists and pedestrians in the town and what will happen now.

Councillor Keane Duncan believes that the Harrogate Station Gateway project is ‘on life support but not dead yet’Councillor Keane Duncan believes that the Harrogate Station Gateway project is ‘on life support but not dead yet’
Councillor Keane Duncan believes that the Harrogate Station Gateway project is ‘on life support but not dead yet’

North Yorkshire Council’s executive will on Tuesday 19 September to decide its next move regarding the project.

Lay out the options for the Station Gateway and what the most realistic outcome is?

There are essentially three options now open to us.

The first option is to push ahead with the current Gateway plan – a plan that will almost certainly be challenged again and therefore time out.

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The second option is to axe the Gateway completely – a decision that will see £11m of investment lost and diverted elsewhere by the Government.

The third is to produce an alternative scheme that achieves public support and has a realistic chance of success.

My sincere hope is to find a way forward that secures £11m of investment for Harrogate.

Did the council prepare contingency plans for the Station Gateway money and is it possible it could be spent elsewhere in Harrogate?

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The Transforming Cities Fund (TCF) investment cannot be spent on anything other than some form of Transforming Cities Fund project.

While it would be possible to revise the current Gateway scheme, it is incorrect and insincere for anyone to suggest funding can be directed to entirely different projects.

We have never had that ability, and we do not have that ability now.

It is always easiest for politicians to walk away, to give up, to standstill – doing nothing is always more expedient than trying to do something.

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But I believe very strongly we should exhaust every avenue before rejecting £11m out of hand.

What do you think about Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones’s comment that the Gateway is a “timed-out dead scheme”?

The Gateway is not timed out – yet.

The Gateway is not dead – yet.

But it is fair to say the Gateway is on life support.

Andrew wants to secure investment for Harrogate and the Liberal Demcorats say they want to secure investment for Harrogate.

I do too, and I will do my best to deliver on that objective.

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Will the Department for Transport extend the Transforming Cities Fund deadline if you decide to put forward a different scheme or make changes?

We must spend Transforming Cities Fund funding by March 2025 at the absolute latest.

We are now in a race against time to meet this deadline and secure investment for Harrogate.

While the timetable is very tight, it does remain possible to deliver a scheme, albeit perhaps not necessarily exactly as first planned.

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We are working very closely with the Department for Transport and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority – their support will be absolutely critical.

The council has admitted errors were made in the consultation stages – who is being held accountable and do you feel let down?

The Gateway decision was rescinded for the simple reason that the loading restrictions proposed for James Street require a public inquiry to be held if an objection is received.

Our legal team quickly accepted this requirement had not been met.

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It is surprising that the legal counsel we engaged failed to advise us of this key, fundamental point and it is right that the council pursues that.

But my focus right now is not on apportioning blame or on looking back at the past – it is on the tricky challenge of determining what to do next.

As executive member you inherited the project from your predecessor Don Mackenzie – if you had the project from the beginning what would you have done differently?

I was not involved at the start and I wasn’t part of the discussions.

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When I inherited the scheme, I pursued the fairest and most democratic possible course of action I could – I made clear I would let Harrogate’s councillors decide the way forward.

The majority backed the scheme and I followed their will.

The Liberal Democrats have since wobbled in the face of pressure and backtracked.

They have shown they cannot provide leadership or direction for Harrogate and they cannot stand by a decision.

I am prepared to do what I takes to deliver investment.

The Liberal Democrats are not being quite so clear and straight forward with the people of Harrogate.

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Harrogate District Cycle Action has criticised the council’s track record in delivering active travel in the town – do you accept this criticism and will the Gateway situation make it more difficult to win funding from government for future schemes?

While fair challenge and scrutiny is very much welcome, relentless criticism from some cycling campaigners is totally counterproductive to delivering the active travel improvements they are seeking.

A further, significant deterrent to progress is unhelpful division between motorists and cyclists, sometimes stirred up by deliberate provocation.

It creates a very difficult context to deliver any change or progress in Harrogate.

I have attempted to heal divisions in my role.

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I removed Beech Grove so we could take a step back and think of an alternative.

I halted phase two of the widely-condemned Otley Road cycleway and hat’s allowed us to devise a £585k transport package with much wider benefit.

We can make progress and we are making progress, but this is never straight forward.

We need a more strategic view and looking ahead to devolution we will have that opportunity.

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Chris Bentley is a wealthy local businessman who owns Hornbeam Park Developments – he could effectively put a stop to £11m of investment, which narrowly has the support of the public, into Harrogate town centre – how do you feel about this?

Legal challenge is a risk to any project – it is a fact of reality and we cannot eliminate that risk, but we should be mindful of it and we should do what wecan to minimise the risk as we seek to secure positive investment for Harrogate.

Since the Uxbridge by-election, the Prime Minister and the Conservatives have come out against some active travel schemes – if the Gateway is shelved, will this help or hinder your hopes of becoming mayor?

My position on Gateway will not be determined by whether it helps or hinders me electorally.

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Chasing popularity is not governing – it is not acting in the public interest, it is knee-jerk, reactionary politics that will continue to let Harrogate down.

I will be a mayor who is prepared to make decisions, even if they are tough, to fight for what I believe in, even if it may not be universally popular, and to be honest about the steps we need to take to address the very serious and growing transport issues Harrogate is facing.

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