What is going on with using the Stray and pavement space for Harrogate bars as lockdown eases?

A number of Harrogate bars hoping to reopen next Monday as part of the latest phase of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown say they feel let down by local authorities over the use of public space.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 3:16 pm
Fashion House Bistro owner David Dresser outside his bar-bistro on Swan Road in Harrogate.

During a similar easing of lockdown rules last year, a number of hospitality businesses in Harrogate town centre took advantage of the Government’s advice to local authorites to relax the usual rules on pavements and outdoors spaces.

And there is no doubt some bars and cafes are planning to use some pavement space this time around.

But a number of bars who spoke to the Harrogate Advertiser say they have experienced a different attitude than last summer - despite initially encouraging words from those in power.

The owner of Fashion House Bistro on Swan Road said he was given permission last summer to use the grassed public space on the corner of Swan Road and Cornwall Road, to help accommodate social distancing measures.

But this time round he had received no reply to his request to do it again when he reopened the bar-bistro on Monday.

Mr David Dresser said: “More than a month after asking if I can use it again, I am still awaiting an answer.

“The land is adjacent to the Fashion House Bistro, separated by a pavement. There’s no health and safety issues.

“The land is deemed part of The Stray but we were responsible custodians last time and ensured it was always left how we found it, clean, tidy and litter free.”

Both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council have previously said they support the idea of the temporary use of outdoor spaces for businesses in these challenging times.

But the Stray Defence Association, its protectors since 1933, are known to completely oppose its use by businesses.

And an additional complicating factor is that the Stray is protected by law and owned by the Duchy of Lancaster.

Two other Harrogate bars - the Blues Bar and Starling Independent Bar Café Kitchen - told the Harrogate Advertiser their requests to utilise non-Stray land had also fallen on deaf ears.

Starling director Simon Midgley said, though he was grateful to win permission to use his rear yard, his application to use pavement space at the front of the bar had been rejected.

Mr Midgley said: “I’m very disappointed to report that despite spending a lot of time and energy preparing an in-depth pavement license application, our application was refused.

“What was particularly frustrating was that I made every effort to make contact with the relevant council department and keep them abreast of the permissions as I got them from neighbouring tenants and property owners.”

While remaining determined and positive about prospects for Harrogate and its hard-pressed hospitality sector, bar owners feel that warm words from the authorities are not being matched by significant action at all times.

Mr Midgeley said: “I’m still very positive about the prospect of reopening on a very limited outside only basis.

“I’m just frustrated and a tad jaded that hospitality always feels like the whipping boy.

“It would just be a nice change for hospitality as an industry to be valued as the key contributor to our town centre economy.

“If you look at other local councils and see Leeds are allowing a collective of bar operators on Merrion street to take over the whole street and cover it with a temporary roof.

“I just wish there was more cooperation and support to ensure we’re still around in 2022 and beyond to continue making a big contribution what makes the town of Harrogate such a great place to live and visit.”

Bars, The Stray and pavement space: What local authorities say

Harrogate Borough Council says it faces “legal issues” which have yet to be overcome to help the hospitality sector cope with the latest stage of the Government’s roadmap by opening up pavements or public land to customers.

The council’s cabinet member with responsibility for the economy said the council had wanted to do more to help the town’s hard-pressed bars, cafes and restaurants when they reopened next Monday - in an outside setting only at the moment.

Coun Graham Swift said: “Our hospitality sector has, possibly, suffered more than any other industry, despite significant help from the Government through furloughing, grants, reliefs and support. Of course, one or two companies will seek out additional or extended licensing to accelerate their return to the new normal.

“We had hoped that we could do even more in this area, particularly around The Stray but there are considerable legal issues to overcome.”

The frustration for some independent hospitality businesses in Harrogate denied access to outdoor spaces is that the highways authority, North Yorkshire County Council, also maintains it wants to help.

Coun Don Mackenzie, Don Mackenzie, who is the county council’s executive member for access, said: “North Yorkshire County Council is very keen to help businesses to be able to trade again and will do everything to facilitate any request to us, as long as the arrangement is safe for the customers and staff of the business, and does not place other footway and highway users at risk.

“But, to clarify: a licence or permission to trade outside on the public footpath or highway would normally be issued by Harrogate Borough Council.”

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