Organisers slam council for acting 'prematurely' over Harrogate Christmas Market

The row over the 'cancellation' of this year's Harrogate Christmas Market intensified today with organisers explaining why they think Harrogate Borough Council has made the 'wrong decision'.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 12:06 pm
One of the chief organisers of The Harrogate Christmas Market Brian Dunsby OBE.

After Harrogate Borough Council defended its decision to oppose having this year's Christmas Market in the Stray at Montpellier Hill saying it had been working with organisers but all the anti-terrorism and Covid safety advice was against it, organisers themselves hit back with an official statement in which they say "bent over backwards to fulfil all the recommended security and safety measures around the site."

Organisers of the Harrogate Christmas Market, Brian and Beryl Dunsby and Chairman Steve Scarre say they were staggered to receive an email letter from Harrogate Borough Council at 16.59 on Thursday 29th July stating that, “after careful consideration, they are unable to agree the use of Montpellier Hill Stray site for the Christmas Market and as such cannot grant a licence.”

"It added that they “hope you are able to identify a suitable alternative location to allow the event to take place elsewhere.”

The statement from Harrogate Christmas Market organisers said: "At the same time, the Council released a media statement on Facebook and Twitter stating that “the Event Plan did not take into account the risk of overcrowding and necessary evacuation procedures, counter terrorism measures and the ongoing risk of COVID-19.”

"This follows several weeks of silence whilst the HBC was presumably evaluating our Event Plan which was submitted on 5th May and the supplementary information which they subsequently requested, which was submitted on 10th June.

"At no point has there been any opportunity to meet the Council Officers and other key experts to discuss their outstanding concerns.

It continued: "We expected to be invited to a SAG meeting to discuss the Event Plan and the Supplementary Information but we have not been given that opportunity.

"We have bent over backwards to fulfil all the recommended security and safety measures around the site.

"In contrast to all their criticisms, we have not had the opportunity to talk about the benefits which the Market brings to Town Centre businesses. These appear not to have been considered by them.

The statement added: "This event was conceived in 2012 by John Fox and Brian Dunsby to attract shoppers into Harrogate at a quiet time of the year. Shop Window displays, competitions and Town Lights were also co-ordinated.

"We were careful to keep the town centre streets free for all the shoppers who were attracted there, and they have been filled to capacity by such shoppers during every Harrogate Christmas Market event ever since. Many Town Centre shop-keepers and other local businesses have told us that the Christmas Market days are the best four days trading of the year.

"For example, if our estimated attendance of 85,000 in 2019 each spent an average of £30 at hotels, restaurants, bars and shops etc., this would add £2.5 million to the local economy. We have always had strong support from over 20 local trade and voluntary groups based in the Town Centre.

"This factor does not seem to have been considered by the Council. In our view there are so many more positives about the Harrogate Christmas Market than there are concerns.

The statement said: "In 2016, an independent report by Consultant Malcolm Veigas into possible alternative locations, commissioned by the Council, concluded that “This review confirms that the Stray is the best location for events in the town and as such should continue to be used as the location for the Christmas Market.”

"It has not been realised by some that the Family Funfair and Father Christmas with his live reindeer have always been an integral part of our Christmas Market.

"The network of ‘tarmac’ paths surrounded by grass enables the mix of many visitors and the erection of marquees and canvas stalls on the same site, whatever the weather holds for us all in November. So we do need a large and versatile site.

"We still believe that the totally open nature of this location with free access in all directions provides a safe location for the event whilst being as close as possible to the Town Centre shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes.

"The action we have already taken to close Montpellier Hill during the Market to through traffic and the hill-top concrete blocks mitigate against the risk of a terrorist attack.

The statement concluded: "We regret that the Council has acted prematurely in refusing to grant a licence for the Market in 2021 without any discussion with the organisers over the outstanding issues.

"We appeal for a proper consultation meeting with the relevant Council Officers and experts as soon as possible."