Why we refused a licence: Council on Harrogate Christmas Market and Montpellier Hill

Harrogate Borough Council says it is a case of 'don't shoot the messenger' when it comes to its decision not to grant a licence for Harrogate Christmas Market to take place on Montpellier Hill.

By Graham Chalmers
Monday, 9th August 2021, 4:43 pm
Updated Monday, 9th August 2021, 4:46 pm
Harrogate Christmas Market - Harroagte council believes it was faced with no choice after the advice it received from emergency services in North Yorkshire on the security and safety weaknesses of the site.

The council believes it was faced with no choice after the advice it received from emergency services in North Yorkshire on the security and safety weaknesses of the site.

Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper said: "We have refused a licence to use the land based on what the police, the fire service and the ambulance service told us.

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"I want to see a market in Harrogate centre this Christmas but the council has refused a licence for the use of Montpellier Hill based on the plans submitted.

"That is because the plans were assessed by the police, the ambulance service and the fire and rescue service as inadequate in safety terms.

"It is those emergency services that have said we shouldn't be holding the event in that location with the plan submitted and based on that we can't grant a licence to hold an event which the emergency services have said is unsafe."

Harrogate Borough Council has been under fire from organisers and sections of the public with a range of questions being raised as to how it has handled the whole issue of the licence for this year's Harrogate Christmas Market.

In an attempt to answer these questions, it has issued its own Q&A.

1. Why have the council cancelled the Harrogate Christmas Market?

Harrogate Borough Council: Despite what has been advertised we haven’t cancelled the Christmas market.

We have said that a licence cannot be granted for the event to take place at its current location on Montpellier Hill based on feedback, including that of the emergency services.

There is no reason the organisers can’t look for an alternative location to hold the event.

2. Why haven’t you granted a licence?

Harrogate Borough Council: The event management plan – for the location of Montpellier Hill – did not fully take into account the risk of overcrowding and necessary evacuation procedures, counter-terrorism measures and the ongoing risk of Covid-19.

Feedback from North Yorkshire Police, Public Health, Yorkshire Ambulance Service and North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has also been taken into consideration to reach this decision.

Ultimately, we are responsible for the safe use of public open space for events (that we manage) and would be liable if there was an incident.

3. Why are the council using Covid-19 as a reason for not approving a licence?

Harrogate Borough Council: Covid-19 is just one of several factors as to why we have not approved a licence for this location but it is by no means the most significant one at the moment.

Others include the risk of overcrowding, necessary evacuation procedures and inadequate counter-terrorism measures.

4. Why have you not worked with the organisers to reach an agreement?

Harrogate Borough Council: We have had ongoing conversations with the event organisers to encourage them to address the concerns over a number of years, and we recognise that progress has been made.

However, significant concerns remain for the emergency services and as the organiser isn’t willing to address these we simply cannot grant a licence for this location.

5. Could you not just grant a licence this time?

Harrogate Borough Council: Concerns have been raised by the emergency services throughout the licence application process and as part of the feedback from issues following previous events.

If we allowed the event organisers to ignore those concerns and granted a licence then we could be potentially dealing with a major incident.

The safety of residents, traders and visitors must come first.

6. Why did the council not give a heads up to traders?

Harrogate Borough Council: We are not the event organiser.

When traders book a space, they should/may be told by Harrogate Christmas Market at the time of doing so that the event isn’t confirmed until a licence for use of the site is granted.

7. Why are the council pulling the event so early?

Harrogate Borough Council: Events of this scale take months to organise and involve numerous partners and stakeholders.

By requesting an acceptable event management plan well in advance, it gives the organisers plenty of time to address any concerns raised by ourselves or partners.

We’ve made this decision now, following numerous conversations over the years, to allow enough time for alternative options to be explored.

If we made the decision later, then there would be less opportunity for alternative options and locations to be looked at and progressed.

8. Has anywhere else been considered?

Harrogate Borough Council: We have been in conversation with the event organisers for several years about moving the Christmas market to another location.

Sadly, the market has been a victim of its own success and has outgrown what can be safely delivered in this location.

Other locations have been suggested but these have been refused. If the organisers wish to continue these discussions then we advise they get in touch as soon as possible.

9. The organisers have suggested that a report produced by the council highlighted that nowhere else in the town centre is suitable

Harrogate Borough Council: This isn’t true. An assessment was carried out by the organisers that was loosely based on a report produced by the council about five years ago.

This assessment primarily focussed on footfall and the location, and makes almost no reference to evacuation procedures, visitor safety, risk of terrorism etc. It also doesn’t take into consideration feedback from partner agencies, such as North Yorkshire Police and Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

These factors are paramount to running a successful event, especially a high-profile Christmas Market such as this.

10. Could it be for a longer period of time so that the size is reduced?

The Stray Act (something that isn’t set by us) limits the number of days in which it can be used for events (35 days throughout the calendar year) and the size of area that can be used (3.5 hectares).

This is something that the existing event organisers have been made aware of repeatedly over the years.

11. The market makes a significant impact on the local economy, something that is desperately needed this year

Harrogate Borough Council: While we understand the Christmas Market has an impact on the local economy, and we sympathise with businesses, we simply cannot allow an event to go ahead if it is not safe.

When we are considering whether an event is safe for the public we cannot allow the prospect of financial benefit, to any particular business or organisation, to mean that we potentially put lives at stake.

12. What are the council doing to put in place alternative arrangements?

Harrogate Borough Council: We have had a number of expressions of interest and we’re working with event organisers to ensure alternative Christmas festivities take place.