Battle over car restrictions in Harrogate reveals underlying tensions on way to greener future

The first critical steps have finally been taken in Harrogate’s journey to a greener traffic future with less car use - and immediately hit a public road block. The Harrogate Advertiser analyses the reasons and why it matters.

Friday, 12th February 2021, 12:20 pm
Updated Friday, 19th February 2021, 10:22 am

To some, the revelation that two relatively small Harrogate roads - Beech Grove and Lancaster Road - are set to shortly become ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ - may seem a small step in a fight to cut traffic congestion and carbon emissions shared by both North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council.

To others, it is a major leap into a negative future.

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Traffic congestion in Harrogate - The announcement of a new ‘low traffic’ area in Beech Grove has sparked the debate around green traffic measures.

A mixed reaction from the public to the county council’s announcement of a car ban on through-traffic only in those two residential areas near West Park Stray has been over-shadowed by a new form of ‘road rage’ by a sizable portion of Harrogate’s business community.

The crux of the matter for Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and members of local business pressure group, Independent Harrogate, is their fear that this six-month experiment at Beech Grove is the first signs of a ‘car-free’ town centre to come.

Many of them support the principle of minimising car use to help reduce climate change but, they argue, not this way.

The nightmare vision of part of Harrogate's business community is, once we emerge from the harmful economic impact of the Covid pandemic, the town centre will not just have fewer cars but fewer customers.

North Yorkshire County Council has been quick to confirm it has no plans to ban cars wholesale either now or in the future.

In fact, it says, there aren’t even plans to stop disc parking in the new ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’.

And, it adds, it is only a trial run and there will be public consultation.

No one who knows anything about sustainable transport in face of the global threat of climate changes believes what has been announced so far has gone anywhere near far enough to transform the situation or address the Harrogate district's carbon emissions.

But a lot more of this sort of thing is on its way in 2021 as the transport authority, North Yorkshire County Council prepares to roll out a series of transport measures in conjunction with Harrogate Borough Council whose stated aspirations lie in the same direction.

The danger in this giant tussle between cycling and car use is that even the most preliminary attempts at progress get bogged down in the sort of heated arguments that have already seen the plug pulled on several ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ in parts of London.

How can major change come to Harrogate if tempers become enflamed over minor measures?

Beneath the negativity lies two unaddressed fears:

1. How will Harrogate town centre look and operate at the end of this journey

2. What are the authorities doing to help endangered businesses in these difficult times?

Economic matters aside, despite the tide of opinion in favour of tackling climate change, it may not be easy to wean people from using their cars to the degree they are accustomed to doing at the present.

But, among many others, Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper is determined to make a positive argument for change.

Making the town centre an open, attractive, pedestrian-friendly space and prioritising sustainable transport over cars will be good for business, he says.

Coun Cooper said: “What we need to do going forward is to reclaim the town centre for the public filling the streets with the customers and to give additional support to town centre businesses to ensure they thrive again.”

The Harrogate Advertiser will report on the 'green' reaction in a future article on sustainable transport in Harrogate.

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