Ten issues that matter for Harrogate in 2020 - special report

Be it the future of Crescent Gardens or the question of how to fill our empty shops, last year was one of controversy in Harrogate. Amid heated debate, ideas for improving things flourished, though progress was negligible. Graham Chalmers looks at ten key issues which face us in 2020.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 9:27 am
Updated Friday, 10th January 2020, 9:47 am
This year should see the county council start to turn its three main aims for cutting car congestion on Harrogates roads into concrete plans.

1

Road congestion and traffic in

Harrogate

What happened in 2019?

After a heated, intensive and highly-expensive, two-year exercise by North Yorkshire County Council called the Harrogate Congestion Study, the controversial idea of a ‘relief road’ in the Nidd Gorge area was finally ditched.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

This year should see the county council start to turn its three main aims for cutting car congestion on Harrogate’s roads into concrete plans including green measures, two new roads - a Killinghall bypass and a western Harrogate bypass, cycle paths and a rise in parking charges.

What they said:

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for transport Don Mackenzie, inset: “Meaningful reduction in congestion in our towns will be the result of a composite of many, varied measures designed to take people out of cars in favour of public transport and more active means of travel.”

2

The Stray and

public events

What happened in 2019?

Harrogate Borough Council has made it plain for several years that it favours more public events on the Stray to boost the local economy.

Last year saw the biggest to date - the UCI Road World Championships - take place for nine days in Harrogate, splitting public opinion in two. The muddy results of hosting the event’s Fan Zone at the Stray at West Park has led to an outcry.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

The Stray will undoubtedly be restored to its full glory at some point - if it ever stops raining. Expect an event or two to happen but more cycling is highly unlikely.

What they said:

Coun Richard Cooper, Harrogate Borough Council leader: “I think people want a rest from big events for a while and that is why I want to give it to them.”

3

Future of the

Crescent Gardens

offices in

Harrogate

What happened in 2019?

Harrogate Borough Council is among those still owed thousands of pounds after the collapse of Harrogate property developer Adam Thorpe’s troubled £75 million dream to convert Crescent Gardens into luxury apartments.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

A new preferred developer is set to be announced this month, hopefully a less controversial choice.

Harrogate citizens who’ve long argued the former council offices should be retained for the public good will probably remain worried

What they said:

A Harrogate Borough Council spokesperson said: “We always knew Crescent Gardens presented a very exciting development opportunity and that is reflected by the number of bids we have received.”

4

New housing

developments

What happened in 2019?

Recent times have seen Harrogate and district accommodate thousands of new houses built under pressure from the Government and developers.

Until now, Harrogate Borough Council has lacked a Local Plan backed by the Government inspector with which to challenge anything, should it choose.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

The General Election delayed the Inspector’s report into Harrogate’s Local Plan but hopes are high he will approve it early this year.

Whether that means ‘inappropriate’ housing will be blocked or more properly afforordable housing is actually built is open to debate.

What they said:

Harrogate Kingsley Ward Action Group: “We have had to cope with hundreds of truck movements a day along with the noise, pollution, dust and damage to our roads.”

5

Public transport (trains and buses)

What happened in 2019?

Harrogate finally got six direct trains a day to London and back, which was hailed by passengers and businesses. But Northern’s dire performance on the Harrogate-Leeds commute in terms of delays and cancellations showed little improvement.

Harrogate Bus Company has also introduced a free Sunday service on certain routes as well as its electric fleet.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

Northern say they are committed to sorting out the Harrogate line but it has said that before. There are, however, signs there may be action at last.

What they said:

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, inset: “The current issues with performance are very frustrating.”

6

Tackling climate change

What happened in 2019?

A year when teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg inspired Climate Change ‘strikes’ in Harrogate and residents campaigned for drivers to switch off their engines at Starbeck rail crossing, there was a lot of talk about making Harrogate ‘sustainable.’

Harrogate Bus Company may have introduced their electric buses but significant action on hitting Harrogate Borough Council’s targets on reducing carbon emissions has been lacking so far.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

With local authorities and groups such as Zero Carbon Harrogate all working towards the same goal, action is coming.

What they said:

Zero Carbon Harrogate: “We want local authorities to be bold in putting in place infrastructure that ensures we can be a leader in this clean transport revolution.”

7

Harrogate

Convention

Centre

What happened in 2019?

The long-term headache continued for Harrogate Borough Council in paying the running costs for a facility which is vital to trade and tourism.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

Harrogate Convention Centre’s new director Paula Lorimer is determine to restructure and succeed but it’s in a very competitive market.

What they said:

Paula Lorimer: “A revitalised convention centre is essential to compete in today’s event industry.”

8 Town centre

and shops under threat

What happened in 2019?

Last year saw 140, 000 jobs lost in total in UK high streets according to the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) as retail chains went bust and/or large retailers introduced cost-cutting programmes.

The Harrogate district wasn’t immune and, though the number of empty shop units was not historically high, their prominent location in the town centre has prompted widespread fears in the business community.

The result has been a proliferation of local groups and organisations pressing local authorities to take action, from Independent Harrogate to Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) which has its own sizable funds.

So far, however, a shared strategy for change has not emerged.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

At a national level, The Queen’s Speech outlined a one-year extension of a discount for some retailers and the extension of the scheme to pubs, music venues and cinema.

Locally, pressure is building to also cut rents for town centre businesses to counter online shopping.

A recently-elected new board for Harrogate BID may make real action more likely.

What they said

Independent Harrogate: “We need to work as fast as practically possible towards a ‘Town Team’ of all the talents, ideally with BID funds.”

9 Social care and council budgets

What happened in 2019?

After nearly a decade of national austerity cuts hitting local budgets, North Yorkshire County Council finally admitted it was feeling the strain last year, saying it had suffered a reduction of nearly 40 per cent in its spending power since 2011 and council officials warned the care system in North Yorkshire was “creaking.”

What is likely to happen in 2020?

Despite talk of the ‘end of austerity’ the squeeze shows no real signs of ending yet with budgets tight as ever.

What they said:

Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council: “The care system is creaking and the Chancellor needs to recognise this crisis.”

10 The future

of Harrogate BID

What happened in 2019?

The first year of Harrogate’s new group formed by and funded by Harrogate town centre businesses themselves proved to be a mixed bag.

On the one hand, some good ideas such as Harrogate Gift Card, on the other, no truly radical steps and the loss of both its first manager and its chairman.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

With a new board elected with better representation for independents, there’s fresh hopes of meaningful action to revive Harrogate town centre.

What they said:

Steve Scarre, Harrogate Chamber of Commerce: “Let’s hope 2020 is a positive year for our retailers.”