Revealed: Reasons why Harrogate Gateway project leaders look set to go ahead with town centre transformation
The team behind the £10.9m Gateway project for Harrogate town centre may have modified their plans at least once in the face of public feedback but the decidely negative results of this latest and last consultation may take a greater degree of digesting than at any time previously.
During the four-week consultation period launched in October by North Yorkshire County Council, a total of 1,320 online surveys about the Harrogate Gateway project were completed with results - for the first time in the entire saga - showing a majority were against the designs for the Government-funded scheme.
With more respondents in last month’s consultation feeling negative about Gateway (55%) than those feeling positive or neutral (45%), project leaders at North Yorkshire County Council are now preparing their final recommendations on a project which has become more, rather than less, divisive as it has progressed.
In an official statement issued yesterday, North Yorkshire County Council stressed that, while the response to the scheme overall was more negative than positive, when the individual elements of the scheme were considered, there were a number of areas in the most recent consultation where more responses were positive.
For example, more respondents agreed that the proposals would be ‘fairly successful’ or ‘very successful’ in achieving each of the following aims:
‘Making it easier and safer to walk, wheel or cycle to the station gateway area - A significant majority (50%) agreed, 23% disagreed, 27% felt neutral.
‘Planting more trees and greenery’ - A significant majority (65%) agreed, 10% disagreed, 25% felt neutral.
‘Improving the look and feel of Harrogate’s gateway’ - A majority (52%) agreed, 30% disagreed, 17% felt neutral.
‘Improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions by encouraging more people to walk, cycle and take public transport’ - a small majority (42%) agreed, 37% disagreed, 22% felt neutral
Encourage more people to use public transport by making it easier to walk and cycle to the bus and rail stations’ - A small majority (35%) agreed, 28% disagreed, 35% felt neutral.
North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for transport, Coun Don Mackenzie said the project had been founded on the public’s support for the general principles of transforming Harrogate town centre with less priority for cars and a nicer environment to do business in - and that had not changed.
Coun Mackenzie said: “The Gateway proposals are consistent with the overwhelming views expressed in the Harrogate Congestion Study public engagement carried out by the County Council in 2019.
“A record number of responses were received as 15,500 local residents took part.
“The clear message sent to us by members of the public then was that they wanted more walking and cycling infrastructure, greater support and use of public transport, and encouragement to leave cars at home when making short journeys.
“They did not want money spent on new highways like a relief road.”
Coun Phil Ireland, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for carbon reduction and sustainability, maintains the Gateway project is a “fantastic opportunity”.
He said: This scheme offers a fantastic opportunity... revitalising the town centre for the benefit of residents, visitors and businesses and ensuring that it is sustainable and can respond to changing consumer demands and expectations.
“The feedback provided during the course of both public consultations is really important to ensuring that we get the best scheme possible.”
North Yorkshire County Council insists the latest consultation was simply about firming up designs already put to public consultation to get the best possible results. It pledges the results will feed into a final decision on Gateway scheduled to take place early next year.
But among those unable to see the benefits of a scheme they claim will produce more congestion in some areas as a by-product - as well as making life tougher for the retail sector - are members of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) and Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce.
In an earlier skirmish in the battle of statistics, a joint-survey conducted in September by the two business groups showed significant opposition to many of Gateway’s most important measures.
In particular,72% were against one of Gateway’s key ideas - reducing the A61 from Cheltenham Mount to Station Bridge to a single lane for cars. The fact only 180 out of 900 businesses took part in the poll does not lessen the strength of feeling elicited by the project.
A level of skepticism over whether the town can or should embrace a future based less on cars has run through several of the biggest public debates in recent years.
Radical revisions or delays to Gateway would be fatal as schemes funded through the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund need to fit specific criteria and be delivered by March 2023 or lose the money.
With the deadline for spending millions of pounds in Government funding on Harrogate town centre not far down the road, the leaders of the Gateway project do not appear minded to change their overall direction.
Harrogate Gateway project: How public got their say in a lengthy series of consultations
Prompted partly by the public’s response to the Harrogate Congestion Study and the battle over a possible Nidd Gorge relief road in 2018/19, North Yorkshire County Council joined the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s bid for Government funding to tackle traffic congestion in a way that would also tackle climate change.
With the backing of Harrogate Borough Council, it applied for and won £10.9million for the Gateway project from the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund.
In February - March 2021, North Yorkshire County Council undertook a public consultation on its plans.
While the feedback showed general support for the idea of Gateway, there was a three-way split in opnion on parts of the plans.
Those viewpoints were then used to inform the updated designs for the scheme which saw the idea of pedestrianisation of James Street watered down to a partial car ban.
It was the revised version of Gateway which was put to a second public consultation process from October 18-November 12, 2021.
The public were once again asked for their views in a detailed online survey available to all via the Your Voice section of North Yorkshire County Council’s website.
Over the four-week engagement period, there were 5,441 ‘visits’ to the Your Voice engagement hub.
A single visitor was able to visit the site several times, which is why the total number of ‘visits’ was higher than the total number of ‘aware visitors’.
A total of 1,320 online surveys were completed with contributions from 1,246 ‘contributors’, which may include different people using the same device.
Two other unofficial public consultations have taken place this year.
The Harrogate Advertiser’s own public survey in February attracted 700 respondees showing majority support for Gateway.
But a joint-poll by Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, Harrogate BID and Independent Harrogate in September showed a majority of 180 respondees against major parts of Gateway.