Special Report: Here is why these are the BIG issues facing the Harrogate District in 2019?
Last year turned out to just as eventful and, at times, troubled in the Harrogate district as the Brexit debate in Westminister. But what real issues are likely to effect us in 2019?
Graham Chalmers looks at ten important topics for the next 12 months.
1. Housing and Local Plan
The saga of Harrogate Borough Council’s Local Plan which began when the Government rejected the original version in 2014 may finally be about to come to an end - but the controversy over the number and location of housing developments is unlikely to go away.
It’s just over a year since Harrogate Borough councillors approved a draft of the district’s latest Local Plan, assigning land for thousands of new homes and businesses.
A series of public hearings are set to be held shortly but the next hurdle for the key planning document begins next Tuesday, January 15, with up to 20 days of hearings, led by government inspector, Richard Schofield.
If the plan is approved, a minimum of 14,049 new homes, including affordable houses, are to be built all the way to 2035 to meet Government targets and support economic growth.
Residents groups in places like Harlow and Pannal Ash in Harrogate, Killinghall, Hampsthwaite and Green Hammerton oppose many of the new housing developments, mainly on the grounds of lack of infrastructure and are in two minds about the Local Plan.
On the one hand, it may mean the end of what they describe as the current “planning free for all.”
On the other, they don’t like several parts of the Local Plan including the location of new housing.
What will happen next? More houses, inevitably, and, more protests.
2. Cycling events
There is no choice for residents in the Harrogate district - 2019 will be the year of cycling.
Yorkshire, in general, and Harrogate, in particular, is to become the global epicentre of cycling with two huge events in under six months.
The Tour de Yorkshire will take place between May 2-5 with the 2019 edition upgraded to HC status by cycling’s world governing body the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – the highest category possible for a multi-day race outside of the UCI World Tour.
The UCI Road World Championships, will take place from September 21-29 and are the pinnacle event in the international road cycling calendar.
It will be the first time that Britain has hosted the event since 1982 and Harrogate will bask in the global media spotlight. The event will be funded through the Government and UK Sport, whilst also receiving support from British Cycling and, yes, you’re right, local authorities.
Good points? A feast of top cycling. A town - and district - full of thousands of visitors from across the globe. Lots of associated cultural and food and drink events.
Negative points? For some people, you can get too much of a good thing.
3. Traffic congestion and relief roads
Another year, another chance to decide about another Harrogate Congestion Study.
After Harrogate area county councillors, including Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper, overwhelmingly rejected any measures that would include a new relief road in the Nidd Gorge area for the second time in less than a year, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive has a big decision to make next Tuesday, January 15.
The question which will finally be answered is whether to put a sustainable measures-only package out to public consultation or a mixed package of sustainable measures plus that controversial relief road idea. Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, who is also a transport minister, is firmly against any new relief road, not merely on environmental grounds but because figures showed it would not actually reduce town centre congestion enough to justify ruining a historic nature spot.
But North Yorkshire County Council has always argued for the need for the wider public to be given the chance to consider a wide variety of options, and a recent meeting of NYCC’s Skipton and Ripon Area Constituency Committee voiced support in keeping such a road on the table for consultation.
Where are we going next? The relief road isn’t dead yet.
The fact Ripon and Skipton councillors also mentioned the importance of improving “east/west connectivity” to boost the economy may suggest bigger forces are at work and a package including a relief road will go to public consultation.
4. Transport and green measures
Which direction will Harrogate take on the environment in 2019? On the one hand, North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council are both keen on sustainable transport measures and getting cars off the road.
On the other hand, there’s that relief road idea and the increasing calls for cheaper or free parking in Harrogate town centre to support shops.
Complications in planning a major new off-road cycle path along Otley Road, linking Beech Grove to Cardale Park, have already caused North Yorkshire County Council’s well-intentioned effort to please all of the people all of the time to be described as “Harrogate’s Brexit.”
What will happen next?
The county council is holding a ‘community engagement’ meeting for the public about its cycle path plans at Harrogate Grammar School on January 21 at 7pm.
Will car usage really decrease? Despite the best of intentions, it’s hard to see how things will change in 2019.
5. Town centre shops and BID
Will some of the big national chains ‘names’ still be around in Harrogate town centre in years to come? Next clothes store may have expanded into Victoria Shopping Centre and some independent bars, cafes, restaurants and shops may be bustling but fears for the future of Harrogate’s traditional high street sector persist.
So much so, that a new business-led group, Harrogate BID (Business Improvement District) launches later this month with a raft of new ideas backed by a financial levy raised from town centre businesses themselves.
Facing pressure on costs from high business rates and rent and fuelled by fears over Brexit and the attractiveness of online shopping, will there be fewer or more empty shop units by this time in 2020?
If anyone can buck the trend, it’s Harrogate. If BID can pick the right policies quickly, it could provide a major boost.
Bonus ball: The thousands of visitors expected to stay in Harrogate for the big cycling events. Opportunities galore.
Harrogate church raided: Vicar's 'thoughts and prayers for lead thieves'6. Crescent Gardens
Harrogate developer Adam Thorpe’s controversial plans for a Â£75 million luxury apartments redevelopment of one of the town’s landmark buildings is reaching a crucial stage.
Despite delays, criticism and concern, the developer’s company ATP (Crescent Gardens) Ltd is deep in talks to hit the final “milestones” in order to submit a full planning application for the former site of Harrrogate Council’s headquarters at Crescent Gardens by April - or risk breaching its contract with Harrogate Borough Council.
After taking up a lease on the land outside Crescent Gardens and renting an office inside the building itself, Mr Thorpe is now in discussions with the local authorities to get permission to stop traffic from using the road in front of the former civic asset.
Some voices in town are concerned that, after two years ATP have not sounded out public opinion on such important community, civic and commercial issues.
They argue Harrogate Borough Council’s previous policy of recommending a full community ‘pre-application consultation’ on major developments of such commercial and civic importance means that a comprehensive community consultation should be held as soon as possible. Chances of that happening? Slim.
Chances of the development going to the full planning stage and getting the go-ahead? Middling to fair.
Harrogate pub to turn into flats?7. Roadworks
The perfect storm of road works is on the cards for Harrogate motorists this year because of a combination of new house building, years of growing potholes and the two big cycling events coming Harrogate’s way.
Already, digging has started at Princes of Wales roundabout as Yorkshire Water gets to work on improving water pipes.
With three different roads in the area effected, the road works will continue on and off until Friday, April 26.
Drivers aren’t in the clear then, however. Although NYCC says its preparations for ensuring roads are in a good condition for cyclists taking part in the Tour de Yorkshire and UCI World Road Championships are well in hand, some surfaces remain poor.
As a result, once the Yorkshire Water roadworks are complete, NYCC’s cycling roadworks will then kick in.
Prepare for closures in Otley Road, in particular.
Further pre-race highways repairs for the cycling will also take place at the bottom end of Cornwall Road while an area at Pot Bank will also be repaired.
Chances of a smooth drive round Harrogate until after the cycling ends in late September? Possibly nil.
8. Sleeping rough and homelessness
In conjunction with local charity Harrogate Homeless Project, Harrogate Borough Council’s scrutiny committee is looking at the root causes of homelessness and begging.
Last year was a bad year for visible homelessness in Harrogate town centre, though figures show the overall numbers may not have changed much. The council is currently planning a new home in Starbeck to provide temporaty accommodation for the homeless.
Other voluntary organisations are also stepping up their efforts, including Harrogate Homeless Project, SASH (Safe and Sound Homes) and even ex-menswear chain owner Brian
Greenwood who is attempting to establish the new Greenhaven Hostel project to help rough sleepers.
Will there be fewer rough sleepers and street beggars in Harrogate town centre in a year’s time? It’s certainly a possibility.
9. Mental health and our hospitals
A troubled year in financial terms for Harrogate and Rural District Clinical Commissioning Group ended with North Yorkshire’s health watchdog slamming it for its plans to close 34 mental health beds at Harrogate District Hospital, pushing patients as far as York or Darlington for treatment.
But health chiefs at Harrogate CCG say they are simply focusing on providing primary and community care closer to home in Harrogate.
Plans to build a brand new mental health unit on the Western side of town may have been ditched but, by moving the hyper acute stroke unit from Harrogate to Leeds or York, many feel this will help tackle postcode inequalities in care.
Chances of further restructuring in 2019? Reasonably high.
Budget constraints and growing demands for school places at high-performing schools in Harrogate are likely to mean education will remain a source of controversy in 2019.
As the current dispute over the effect of budget cuts on the Grove Academy in Harrogate shows, this is particularly so when it comes to disabled, disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils.
With the impact of austerity on local authorities showing no signs of easing, there may be side-effects on mainstream schools, too.
And pressure for places may be felt in later years when a raft of new housing developments inside and around Harrogate come to fruition without the addition of new schools or major road infrastructure.
Will 2019 be an easy year for Harrogate schools? No, not exactly.