Relief road officially rejected but parking costs to rise as Harrogate tackles congestion issues
The leading councillor behind newly-endorsed plans to tackle Harrogate's congestion says the measures, including a rise in parking costs, "won't be easy", but are necessary to drive down car use in the town.
North Yorkshire County Council's executive member for access Don Mackenzie said residents will be hit with a "mixture of carrot and stick" in a bid to tackle congestion in Harrogate.
A sharp rise in town centre parking charges is likely, while the possibility of a relief road being built near the picturesque Nidd Gorge has officially been rejected for now.
Among the actions the authority will take are a review into parking prices in Harrogate's town centre which will see costs rise as the council looks to disincentivise the use of cars.
The authority will also explore the introduction of on-street parking fees in Knaresborough, despite 64 per cent of congestion survey respondents disagreeing with the proposals for increased parking costs.
While the possibility of an inner relief road between Harrogate and Knaresborough has been dumped for now, the council will undertake "initial assessments" into a bypass at Killinghall, as well as the potential of a link being built between the Otley and Leeds Roads.
That move will be coupled with a “low cost feasibility study” into a potential park and ride service on the town's outskirts.
The vote by North Yorkshire County Council's executive comes after three years of debate and an extensive consultation process earlier this year which saw 15,000 Harrogate district residents voice their opinion on the proposals.Presenting the report, executive member for transport Don Mackenzie urged his fellow members to vote for the measures, which he said reflected the "overwhelming response" from the public. He also revealed the consultation process had led to abuse towards himself and council officers, saying "there was a degree of aggression" surrounding the possibility of a relief road.
“That theme also encouraged, I believe, some aggressive behaviour from some residents of Harrogate and Knaresborough," he said.
"I apologise to officers if at any time they feel like they were being bullied or the subject of aggression."
While the majority of councillors voiced their support in embracing the moves, some highlighted elements of "hypocrisy" in the survey results.
"I have to say that throughout all this there seems to be a lot of blue sky- thinking hypocrisy in Harrogate," Coun Andrew Lee, the executive member for business, told councillors.
Although a relief road has been rejected this time around, Coun Lee said the proposal could be revisited in years to come to help with Harrogate's rapid plans for growth.
"Nobody wants a relief road in Harrogate, but I'm pleased we're not completely taking that off the table because in the future we may have to reconsider it...(with) thousands and thousands of new houses being built, and thousands more in the pipeline, where all this traffic is going to go is beyond belief," he said.
"'We don't want a relief road, yet we don't want increased parking charges in the town'... There's a lot of mixed messages there. What exactly do the people of Harrogate want, and what exactly is the solution?"
His views over implementing the changes were echoed by the county's deputy leader, Coun Gareth Dadd, who said Harrogate's council would have to be prepared for a backlash if parking prices were raised.
"(Harrogate) businesses have a livelihood to achieve. They want people in the town and it's that much more difficult if they have to jump on and off the bus," he said.
"Harrogate Borough Council have to stand firmly behind rising charges in their car parks and they're going to have to answer to the business community. Whichever way we turn on this we're in a no-win situation."
After the meeting, Coun Mackenzie said parking charges had gone unchanged in Harrogate's town centre for three years, with the survey results pointing towards a need to do something to drive down car use in the area.
"We need to discourage people from driving into town centres in their car," he said.
Coun Mackenzie acknowledged the challenges facing the authority in tackling traffic levels, as the district faces unprecedented levels of growth.
“We are up against it. We are currently building more houses in Harrogate and Knaresborough than we've ever built before and we're not building new roads, so inevitably if the same number of people continue to use their cars as they do now the roads are going to be fuller and fuller," he said.
However, he backed the pursuit of the range of sustainable measures to effectively aid in cutting down the town's congestion.
"The measures we agreed on...cumulatively I think will begin to have an effect, but it won't be easy."
Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter