Is Harrogate ready for a bright green 'sustainable transport' future?

Harrogate's buses could prove the answer to many of the town's transport problems.
Harrogate's buses could prove the answer to many of the town's transport problems.

When councillors get their own hands dirty to make the town tidier, it’s possible to say with some conviction that they really do want to make the place better.

Harrogate Borough Council's three-stage plan for sustainable transport
It seems members of Harrogate Borough Council have been doing just that in recent weeks.

Traffic issues have plagued Harrogate and Knaresborough for some time.

Traffic issues have plagued Harrogate and Knaresborough for some time.

Indeed, councillors including Rebecca Burnett, Paul Haslam and Richard Cooper have been spotted on their hands and knees trowels in hand on a Sunday night in the town centre in the likes of Bower Street weed-pulling and weed-spraying.

Such efforts pale into insignificance with the council’s official response to North Yorkshire County Council’s (NYCC) Knaresborough and Harrogate congestion study.

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In its most comprehensive statement on traffic congestion so far, the council calls for wide-ranging investment in sustainable transport measures, particularly those focussed on dedicated cycling infrastructure, and public transport improvements.

But, among the lengthy list of its conclusions on the subject, is a firm rejection of the London model of congestion charges.

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Signed by Coun Phil Ireland, cabinet member for sustainable transport, the letter from the borough council also states clearly it does not support the idea of a new relief road near Nidd Gorge, one of many ideas on traffic congestion the county council will weigh up over the coming six months.

Instead, the council calls for investment in sustainable transport measures, particularly those focussed on dedicated cycling infrastructure and public transport.

Coun Ireland said: “There should be greater investment in measures which encourage people out of their cars.

“New cycling infrastructure and improved public transport – along with changes to some junctions - will help tackle the congestion which blights Knaresborough and Harrogate.

“It will also help us realise our ambitions on carbon reduction and climate change.”

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A substantial document in its own right, the letter ackowledges a joint approach between itself, the county council, other transport authorities and the private sector is vital.

Like the county council, the borough council is planning for future growth caused by economic factors and the expansion of housing.

But the borough council also offers its own “indicative congestion action plan” over traffic with short term, medium term and long term measures.

After identifying Harrogate’s key traffic blackspots not only currently but going forward, it sets out a complex set of proposals including railway improvements, changes to road junctions, more park and rides and cycle lanes, more pedestrianisation, changes to traffic light systems and, perhaps controversially, measures to deter people from using their cars as often as they do currently.

One simple idea which may have a major impact is giving buses priority on traffic lights in Harrogate and Knaresborough town centres.

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In the long term, the borough council is not against new roads per se, only in the situation where sustainbale measures fall short.

In the meantime, doing things smarter and greener appears to be acquiring wide support in Harrogate.

Chris Kitson of local campaign group, The Harrogate & Knaresborough Alliance for Less Traffic (HALT), said action should be taken quickly where action was easiest.

He said: “I agree with most of Harrogate Borough Council’s proposed measures and philosophy.

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“But I would urge North Yorkshire County Council to get on with it and deliver some quick wins without further delay.

“For example, take out the traffic lights, put in mini roundabouts and sort out Starbeck level crossing ASAP to get the existing traffic flowing better and improve air quality. It’s time to implement the obvious, quick solutions without further procrastination.”

HALT believes any idea of a ‘Nidd Gorge relief road’ should’ve been shelved back in December 2017, when county councillors based in Harrogate and Knaresborough first rejected it.

From the letters this newspaper has received in the last week, it seems a lot of readers are backing sustainable ideas over new roads, too.

The next step, however, will be the hardest one as Harrogate Borough Council looks to turn its sustainable transport dream into reality by persuading people to give up their cars.