'How many stabbings does it take?': Harrogate councillors clash over park security priority

Police at Harrogate's Valley Gardens after a suspected stabbing incident in April.
Police at Harrogate's Valley Gardens after a suspected stabbing incident in April.

A councillor has asked "how many stabbings does it take?" for security in parks around Harrogate to be considered a high priority issue by the local authority's main scrutiny body.

Members of Harrogate council's overview and scrutiny committee - which is tasked with reviewing work undertaken by the authority and its partners - met this week to finalise their work programme for the 2019/2020.

High priority items marked for review included local bus services, street begging and housing development in Nidderdale's natural beauty area.

However, it was items marked as "low priority" - including the performance of Harrogate Convention Centre, the failed sale of Crescent Gardens, and security in parks and open spaces - which stirred up most debate among councillors.

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Members of the committee had agreed on the rankings at a briefing meeting held in June.

Coun Alex Raubitschek - who was one of five substitutes sitting in on the meeting, with five of the original ten-member panel unable to attend - was one who took issue with security in parks being ranked a low priority for review.

“If security is a low priority on this list, and you have people potentially being stabbed, that has an impact on people coming to the town,” Coun Raubitschek said, highlighting his concerns that negative press from an incident in the Valley Gardens earlier this year could damage the town's tourist economy.

“How many stabbings does it take in the park?” Coun Victoria Oldham agreed.

However, other councillors questioned how much influence the council itself had over security in public spaces, and whether the issue wasn't more of a question for broader bodies such as North Yorkshire Police.

In April, following a serious assault and a stabbing in the town, Harrogate Police Inspector Penny Taylor urged residents not to speculate or raise "unnecessary" alarm in reaction to the "rare" incidents.

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"It's important to remember that Harrogate is, and remains, a really safe place to live and work. Incidents like these are, thankfully, very rare in our town," she said at the time.

The matter of security in parks wasn't the only issue that drew debate. Coun Pat Marsh said some of the items marked low priority for review, such as the sale of Crescent Gardens, were time sensitive.

"If we don't do it now it'll be long gone," Coun Marsh said.

However, councillors agreed that there could be late additions or changes to the program during the course of the year.

“As long as we can keep this fluid,” Coun Marsh said.

Coun Phil Broadbank agreed that "things could pop up during the year that we need to know about".

The annual prioritisation workshop enables members to suggest and consider potential future items of work for the committee over the upcoming year.

Among the commitee's capabilities are the initiation of its own reviews of a council service, function or policy.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter