Judicial review 'threat' to £10.9m Harrogate town centre plans as mood hardens in business community over Gateway project
Harrogate’s much-vaunted £10.9 million Gateway project may face the threat of a judicial review if most of its key measures are not scrapped, warn businesses.
Anger among the town’s business community - at the North Yorkshire County Council-led plans to transform and improve the traffic system and environment in the Station Parade area of Harrogate - is such that some traders are raising the possibility of mounting legal action against the controversial scheme.
The hardening mood among business owners made itself felt at a special meeting of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
The stormy event saw leading figures in the Gateway project in attendance to explain the latest version of the scheme aimed at tackling carbon emissions, reducing traffic congestion and creating a better environment for businesses and visitors.
But the reaction from business owners present was almost wholly negative.
Such was the concern over Gateway, a suggestion that a judicial review should be called for received wide support from those gathered in the Cedar Court Hotel.
Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive David Simister said: “At the conclusion of the meeting, I read a proposal from a number of Chamber members which stated that if the scheme was not halted and thoroughly reviewed, substantially revised and/or scrapped, they would have no alternative but to seek a judicial review.
“This was overwhelmingly supported by the room, although the motion was not a motion by the Chamber.”
Among the issues raised at the meeting by disgruntled business owners were:
Why not make Parliament Street/West Park two way?
Where’s the evidence it will boost the economy?
Has there been an environmental impact assessment on the narrowing of the A61 to one lane traffic on Station Parade?
Will people really come into Harrogate to do their shopping on their bikes?
What about the difficulties with deliveries on Lower Station Parade if parking bays are removed in favour of a cycle lane?
But the county council’s transport leader, Coun Don Mackenzie, who set the scene for the Gateway Project in person at Monday’s meeting, says he is confident the scheme would pass any test.
“I have discussed the implied threat of a judicial review with the county council’s Corporate Director Karl Battersby,” he said. “It is the process rather than the scheme itself which would be subject to the review.
“Whoever brings such a request would need to fund the costs and have sufficient justification.
“Whilst such a course of action is always a possibility, we feel that there are no grounds for one, because we are confident that our processes in the Gateway Scheme have been correctly carried out.”
There is no suggestion so far that the town’s main business organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce are minded to back a judicial review, even if angry traders should opt to turn the idea into a reality and file an application for one.
But the mere threat reflects growing opposition from those in Harrogate’s public life against Gateway.
The growing tide was amplified this week by Harrogate Civic Society’s lengthy, formal response to the project in which it concluded that, without changing most of it, the whole scheme should be scrapped even if that risked the £10.9m of central government funding to boost the town centre being withdrawn.
But Coun Mackenzie says progress on the Gateway project will be guided by the latest phase of ongoing public consultation which closes tomorrow, Friday.
Previous consultations in the lead-up to Gateway have shown clear support from the general public for making Harrogate town centre more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly in the battle against climate change.
Coun Mackenzie said: “We probably did not change many minds on Monday. Opinions amongst the attendees seemed quite hardened,” he admitted. “I would not like to anticipate the overall consultation response, but clearly North Yorkshire County Council made its successful bid for funding for Gateway on the basis that we would deliver the improvements guided by public opinion as far as the final designs are concerned.
“The views of business owners are very important to us. Their opinions will be taken into account alongside others submitted during the consultation.”
What is the Gateway project
After winning its bid for £10.9m for improvement in the Station Parade area of Harrogate from the Government's Transforming Cities Fund (TCF) as part of a bigger package secured by Leeds City Region, North Yorkshire County Council undertook a public consultation in February - March 2021 which presented design options for proposals that focused on Station Parade and adjoining streets.
The brief was to:
Improve sustainable transport infrastructure to support a shift towards more sustainable travel choices such as walking, cycling and using public transport
Support the regeneration of the Station Parade area of the town
Improve public health and wellbeing
The public feedback received through this process was then used in October to updated the original designs for the Gateway scheme which aims to improve walking and cycling access to rail and bus services and reduce general car traffic in Harrogate town centre.
Regulars calls over the last 12 months by business leaders and civic groups in Harrogate for North Yorkshire County Council to reconsider bringing back two-way traffic to the A61 on Parliament Street for the first time in 50 years as an alternative to reducing car traffic to one lane on Station Parade has been firmly rejected by the leaders of the Gateway project.
The A61 idea surfaced again even at Monday's meeting of Harrogate District Chamber of Trade with its chief executive David Simister saying: "There were plenty of questions asked by our members at the meeting, including has there been an environmental impact assessment on the narrowing the A61 to one lane?
"I asked who was in favour of narrowing the A61 on Station Parade to one lane and probably 99 per cent were against.
"But not everyone was against it. One attendee said the town needed to evolve or it was in danger of becoming left behind."
But leaders of the Gateway project, which is being led by North Yorkshire County Council, argue the idea of bringing back two-way traffic to the A61 on Parliament Street is a distraction from Gateway's core goals that would not, in reality, reduce car traffic in the town centre.
They add that changing course like this would delay and derail the entire Gateway project and lead to the withdrawal by the Government of the £10.9m budget which has to be spent by 2023 to meet the criteria of the county council's original bid for funding from the Transforming Cities Fund.
Coun Mackenzie said: "I believe that business's opposition to this major investment in the town is misplaced..
"The subject of returning to two-way traffic on Parliament Street and West Park was raised at the Chamber of Commerce meeting and I was asked if I have ruled this out.
"Insofar that this is my decision - which is not for me alone to take - I stated that I believed this proposal was a distraction, and I did not believe that this was a viable option now.
"There is an inconsistency for persons to claim that a short section of one lane for southbound traffic on Station Parade would lead to unacceptable congestion, when at the same time seeking to put all A61 traffic on to two lanes.
"I have already stated that this proposal would lead to congestion, poor air quality and a marked deterioration in amenity for residents and businesses along this highway."
Harrogate Gateway scheme consultation
The latest phase of North Yorkshire County Council's consultation on Gateway runs until Friday, November 12.
To fill in the Gateway public survey, visit: www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/harrogate
How would a judicial review work?
There’s been much talk among Harrogate businesses about initiating a judicial review over the Gateway project.
But what would that involve, asides from an initial fee of £154 rising to £700 if a full review goes ahead plus lawyers’ fees on top?
The role of a judicial review is not to re-make the decision being challenged, or to inquire into the merits of that decision, but to conduct a review of the process by which the decision was reached in order to assess whether that decision was flawed and should be revoked.
The first stage of such a step would be serve a pre-action protocol letter advising of the intention to commence proceedings and the reasons why.
The authority, in this case, North Yorkshire County Council, would respond to this letter.
If the applicant is unsatisfied with the reply, the next stage is to apply to the court for permission to proceed with the claim.
If this is granted, the next stage is where the claim is heard and there is a final hearing and judgement is handed down.
In terms of the timescale, for non-planning cases such as Gateway, there is a requirement to bring the case promptly, usually within three months of the date when grounds for the application first arose.