Stormy Harrogate relief road meeting: blow by blow

The queue of members of the public at last Thursday's meeting on Harrogate traffic congestion measures held by North Yorkshire County Council in the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate didn't quite stretch to the white van with the legend 'Save Nidd Gorge and the Nidderdale Greenway'.

Wednesday, 13th December 2017, 8:23 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th December 2017, 8:25 am
Protesters outside the Harrogate area committee meeting of North Yorkshire County Council at the Cairn Hotel. (Picture by Mike Whorley Photography)

But it did fill the large room to over-flowing with more than 100 people there to make their point and watch as Harrogate area councillors debated the options suggested in a lengthy report drawn up by nationally-recognised transport consultancy WSP in conjunction with the county council.It would prove to be a stormy affair with the chairman having to halt proceedings several times as passions rose.The feeling in the room at the Cairn Hotel was overwhelming against a relief road and, with a few notable exceptions, the debate and the eventual voting went reflected that in the end.But the two-and-a-half hour meeting started calmly enough with a detailed explanation of the thoroughly detailed report.

The meeting beginsBarrie Mason, assistant director of highways and transportation for North Yorkshire County Council, summarised the keys points.He said: “The assessments of the effectiveness of the different groupings of policies were made to meet a high level of objectives.”“These were to sustain growth, improve the quality of life and attend to green considerations. From those assessments came five packages to meet the objectives.”A few points he brought up turned out to be constant themes as the meeting progressed:“To date no options have been accepted or discarded.”“Environmental considerations featured highly in the consultants’ work.”“External trips through Harrogate account for 7% of journeys. Most start and finish in Harrogate.”“Included in the study’s considerations are the Local Plan and its growth aspirations which need to be accommodated.”“The A59 is a key route, it is a strategic corridor."A major bone of contention would prove to be the county council officers' recommendation that the relief option which provided the greatest relief for congestion was an inner relief road in Bilton in conjunction with a Killinghall bypass.The latter claim would go on to become a key debating point.

Harrogate Borough Council's viewpointNext up was Coun Phil Ireland who outlined Harrogate Borough Council’s on the report which had recommended Packages B (sustainable policies) and E (new roads plus some sustainable policies) go forward to public consultation later this month.HBC did not think supporting a relief road in Bilton as outlined in package E was in Harrogate's interests, he said.“We think it’s important for the public to have a say in any congestion solution.“We’re keen to see sustainable transport used across the district. We think the developments in our Local Plan can be mitigated by a range of junction improvements and are, therefore, not dependent on a relief road."

Some of the members of the public at the Cairn Hotel at the Harrogate Relief Road Review meeting. (Picture by Mike Whorley Photography)

What the public said

The meeting moved onto the public's point of view. Twelve members of the audience were allotted three minutes each.

Malcolm Margolis of Harrogate cycling group Wheel Easy spoke about the apparent contradiction of proposing to build a relief road through the Nidderdale Greenway from Bilton, which had been created with the support of some of the same councillors in the room.“The opening of the Nidderdale Greenway is the most civilised thing which has happened in our area in recent times. It’s extraordinary four years later we’re contemplating options to build a road over part of it.”“Even more roads lead to even more traffic.”

Geoff Foxall of Starbeck Residents' Association also argued it had been proved new road schemes generate increasing traffic volumes.He said: “Your own report estimates over 1,000 cars an hour on Bilton Lane if the relief road was built meeting head on with children going to and from two primary schools.”Roderick Beardshall pointed to a more civilised future where technology would make new roads unnecessary but it depended partly on “inspired civic leadership supplying the right decisions.He said: “Road building represents a lose-lose scenario of wasted money and wasted environment.”Jemima Parker, chair of Zero Carbon Harrogate congratulated the county council on a “thorough and fact-based review” and pointed to the report's figure of only 7% of traffic congestion being created from outside Harrogate.She wondered how and why the council had concluded that package E was one of the two the best solutions with package B.She said: “I ask councillors what are you trying to achieve? Package E only scored well because of sustainable transport interventions which have been tagged onto the relief road options.”A tearful Allan Smyth of Save Nidd Gorge Community Action gave a moving speech saying the Nidd Gorge was a precious place to escape the pressures of modern life, a place used by thousands to meet and play and enjoy the outdoors.“It’s a place of space and solace, of peace and nature. Nidd Gorge is not a place to put a major trunk road.”

Some of the councillors at the Harrogate area committee meeting of North Yorkshire County Council at the Cairn Hotel. (Picture by Mike Whorley Photography)

Coun Val Rodgers, Bilton, said she was "disappointed" with the consultation process and said not all residents were receiving all the information, a worry raised by others but addressed later on.

Kevin Douglas, the chair of Harrogate District Cycle Action said he was pleased that "key findings" in the county council-commisioned report showed that most traffic was internal, not through traffic and that package B of sustainable measures scored higher than the relief road options in the report.He said: "We strongly support package B. A relief road would have a major and catastrophic impact on the Nidderdale Greenway, one of the best used cycle routtes in Yorkshire."

Chris Kitson, chair of Nidd Gorge Community Action, called a relief road a "destructive, heartbreaking proposal" and wondered why Bilton fields had failed to gain protected green space status. He also questioned why North Yorkshire County Council had conducted a survey of traffic to try to justify a relief road but had not conducted a survey to assess the amenity value of the Nidd Gorge and the Nidderdale Greenway.He said: "The results of the survey we did of the Nidd Gorge in October were remarkable."What criteria does Nidd Gorge need to meet to the respect and protection it merits?"

Resident of Bilton Lane John Branson questioned the county council's whole process in producing the packages as "muddled thinking."He claimed different versions of the report contained "inconsistencies" in the actual figures and gave some examples.

Some of the members of the public at the Cairn Hotel at the Harrogate Relief Road Review meeting. (Picture by Mike Whorley Photography)

Keith Wilkinson of Bilton Conservation Group said the clue that Bilton was the wrong place for a relief road was the word 'lane' in Bilton Lane.He questioned North Yorkshire County Council's entire motivation as being about "East-West connectivity" rather than Harrogate traffic congestion.He said: "Is the relief road just a bypass on the cheap to improve journeys from Lancashire to Scarborough?"

Bilton resident Tom Hay said that everyone in Harrogate wanted something done about traffic but a relief road was not the answer.He said: "We all want less congestion but, according to your report, it does not relieve congestion."This is key. It makes the impact on Bilton of a new road needless. There will be a high price to pay for a road with no benefits."Officers and councillors now had the chance to make their points.

What NYCC officers and councillors saidAndrew Bainbridge, team leader for transport planning at North Yorkshire County Council, patiently answered all the main points put by members of the public in a lengthy reply.He said the county council accepted that any relief road would have an impact but that didn't mean "the closure of Nidd Gorge or the total destruction of the Nidderdale Greenway."He said the report did show that a relief road would bring traffic benefits to Harrogate town centre.He said: "If the committee agrees a relief road will be part of a package, it will be included. If it is taken further there will be a strategic outline business case looking at the pros and cons of a road in detail."It's one of those cases where we are condemned if we do, and condemned if we don't."We want to hear the views of the Harrogate public on packages B and E. Starting in January, we intend to deliver information to every postal address in the areas, 48,000 leaflets in total."When he said "traffic isn't necessarily a bad thing, it allows access by visitors", a few members of the public shouted out "you're talking a load of rubbish" and "you're clutching at straws."He said the meeting was only about consultation about the packages of options and was part of the standard Department of Transport process.If the council didn't carry on with the process, the chance to have any sort of relief road would be lost for ten/20 years.Going forward at this point didn't actually mean having a relief road.As for worries that the process was called "Harrogate Relief Road Review", he said the council was looking at changing the name to "Harrogate Congestion Consultation."He said: "We recognise it is a very controversial issue. If the people of Harrogate don't want a relief road, it is something the council can take into consideration after consultation."

Coun Geoff Webber, representing the Bilton and Nidd Gorge division, said history showed him he could not support any recommendation which involved a relief road in the Nidd Gorge area and its "a wonderful, outstanding beauty."He said: "I was involved with the bypass plans that were abandoned in Harrogate in 1991 and one of the experts told me at the time "you can spend what you want building a relief road now but in four to five years' time traffic will be back up to the same level."

Some of the councillors at the Harrogate area committee meeting of North Yorkshire County Council at the Cairn Hotel. (Picture by Mike Whorley Photography)

Coun Philip Broadbank, Harrogate Starbeck division, said he could not support the relief road option either but did suppoert package B.He said: "We can get on with sustainable options now but a relief road takes years and there's no guarantee the government will even come up with the money."

Coun Jim Clark, Harrogate Harlow division, said new roads were not the answer and it "saddened" him that 15 years he had been elected to oppose a relief road which would have effected Harlow in Harrogate, people still wanted to build more roads.But he said he thought both packages should go forward to public consultation because it was an opportunity for the public to debate the issue and discuss sustainable solutions.

Coun Michael Harrison, Lower Nidderdale and Bishop Monkton division, said he was in a "tricky situation" because he didn't support destroying the Nidderdale Greenway, having supported its creation, but his constituents wanted a Killinghall bypass and that was part of package E.He, therefore, supported both packages going to public consultation, though he thought any consultation process should be delayed until after the Christmas holidays.

A decisive intervention by Harrogate's council leaderHarrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper, Harrogate Central division, stepped in to propose a new amendment in a key intervention.He said he wanted to propose that only package B of sustainable options be put forward but that public consulation on this be delayed until the consultants behind the report worked up more detailed plans.One of the main reasons was the evidence in the county council's own report, while questions of cost and effectivenes also came into play.Coun Cooper said: "Financially I don't think a relief road will ever happen. The government will not give us £100m for a road. That money will never happen."My other concern is that a road just won't work. 93% of journeys are to and from Harrogate. What is the point of consultation?"

Coun Zoe Metcalfe, Knaresborough division, said she supported package B of sustainable transport policies because a relief road would just encourage more traffic.

A stormy reception for the man defending the relief road optionCoun Don Mackenzie, executive member, highways, passenger transport, Harrogate Saltergate, was barracked as he defended the council officers' recommendation of putting both packages going forward to public consultation.At one point his reference to "only you Bilton people" being against this was met with shouting from the public.He sais there were only 18 councillors here and 100 members of the public but they were about to deny 48,000 households the chance to have their views taken into account on what to do about traffic congestion.He said: "I'm not sure all the members here have even read all of the report."The problem of congestion is rising every day. Our mailboxes are full of complaints from the public. I'm not going to take the easy option of doing nothing."The shouting which then erupted from the crowd led Coun MacKenzie to say it was a cse of trying to shout people down. The meeting had to be paused and the chairman warned the members of the public about their behaviour."We are not going to ruin the Nidderdale Greenway. We are not on a path to destroying Nidd Gorge."The public might prefer the softer, less controversial options. If they do, that is what we will take forward. The electorate deserve the opportunity to give their views."His proposal was moved by Coun Harrison before Coun Paul Haslam, Harrogate Bilton and Nidd, who was denied a vote having declared an interest, said he would have voted for package B to defend Nidd Gorge.

Coun Nicola Wilson, Knaresborough division, said she, too, would defend the loveky Nidd Gorge, where families played and children learned to play poo sticks.

Sandra Doherty, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said traffic congestion in Harrogate was already preventing economic growth that was important for the town.The chamber believed pushing package B would deny the public choice in the matter and that the relief road option should go to consultation.

The votingCoun Cooper's amendment was seconded by Coun Broadbank and two votes followed.The results of both were overwhelming - and overwhelmingly against a relief road option.

Vote 1:For the proposal to take two options (B and E) to public consultation3 for, 13 against and 1 abstention

Vote 2:For the proposal to take a single option (B) to public consultation14 for, 2 against, 1 abstention