'Less parking in Harrogate town centre' divides opinion in business community

Local councillors aim to give more priority to pedestrians and cyclists in Harrogate town centre as lockdown eases but the town's traders are already divided on the plans, while supportive of people's safety.

Friday, 22nd May 2020, 6:38 pm
The signs announcing a temporary suspension of car parking on several shopping streets in Harrogate town centre. But will it become permanent?

News earlier this week of progress on the multi-million pound Gateway project for Harrogate promising a less car-dominated space in the town centre with improved cycling and walking routes may have been in the pipeline for months but it still could not have been more timely.

The securing of £7.9 million by North Yorkshire County Council in conjunction with Harrogate Borough Council from the Government's Transforming Cities Fun to create an eco-friendly ‘gateway’ to the Station Parade area comes after temporary ‘no parking’ rules appeared in key shopping streets in the town centre last weekend to make it safer for shoppers to come back during the coronavirus pandemic.

Traffic cones appeared on both sides of James Street, as well as one side of Commercial Street and Albert Street, with signs announcing “parking suspension: To enable social distancing from May 16 to September 30.”

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The new ‘Gateway’ project for Harrogate town centre would take that further with the possible permanent reduction of car parking spaces.

While the temporary restrictions received a broadly favourable reaction from the various Harrogate business groups, the idea of moving closer to long-term pedestrianisation has met with more concern.

Sara Ferguson, acting chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID): said “The temporary measures to assist with social distancing are both necessary and welcomed.

“They will help make customers and workers more comfortable about returning to Harrogate town centre.

“But it’s imperative that those driving into town by car know where they can park – both on-street and in car parks – and at the same time are not penalised for doing so.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for access Coun Don Mackenzie has admitted any planned changes to James Street in particular, one of Harrogate’s most expensive shopping streets, are likely to renew controversy in Harrogate but said the plans would make the town centre more, not less accessible.

As for Harrogate Borough Council, it said any major closures to cars in the town centre on a permanent basis would have to be discussed with local businesses in advance.

Parking reductions: Independent Harrogate's viewpoint

One group which has received the news of just that possibility with undisguised exasperation is Independent Harrogate which has been rowing in the opposite direction from the start.

When around 200 small businesses came together to form the new pressure group, top of the Independent Harrogate agenda was more free parking in the town centre.

On hearing the latest developments, an IH spokesperson said: “Independent Harrogate is broadly in favour of many of the town centre initiatives in the longer term.

“Who could not fail to be enthused by the images of al fresco dining, tree-lined streets and grand gateways?

“Our 200 members also worry about climate change and increasing pollution.

“But there is a crisis in Harrogate town centre.

“ Any Harrogate business that may have entertained hopes of a supportive shopping environment following the lockdown has just had those hopes dashed by plans for parking restrictions.

paramount importance and should be adhered to.

“But Harrogate needs to send out a message that we are open for business and will be ll be pleased to welcome you.”

Parking reductions: Harrogate BID's viewpoint

Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) is only one of a fairly crowded field of bodies representing and championing business interests in Harrogate these days.

Set up in early 2019, it’s had a troubled first 18 months but has a long list of improvements it is planning to make to the town centre and its economy in the coming months.

When it comes to cars and parking, it sees the need to support pedestrians but also fears the impact on trade if there ever was to be a car-less town centre.

Sara Ferguson, Harrogate BID’s acting chair said “The temporary measures to assist with social distancing are both necessary and welcomed.

“They will help make customers and workers more comfortable about returning to Harrogate town centre.

“However, at the same time, it’s imperative that those driving into town by car know where they can park – both on-street and in car parks – and at the same time are not penalised for doing so.

“Harrogate BID is here to represent every town centre business who, between them employ thousands of people.

“Any plans for further pedestrianisation need to be carefully considered, and must take into account the views of all town centre businesses.

“Another important factor within this needs to be improving traffic flow, which will enhance everyone’s experience driving in and around the town.”

Sara added: “Our aim is to make Harrogate a must-visit destination; one that is accessible for people arriving by all means of transport, including on foot, public transport, cars, bicycles and scooters.

“We will be asking North Yorkshire County Council for an urgent review into town centre parking signage.”

Parking reductions: Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce's viewpoint

The town’s longest-existing business body, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, its chief executive Sandra Doherty said retailers she had talked to were concerned that the reduction of parking on these very popular streets might further discourage shoppers but , added, people’s safety was paramount.

She said: “I feel that when we open the town for visitors and shoppers it will be slowly and carefully.

“I hope we can encourage people to come back but we must do all that we can to ensure there is space for people shopping to do so safely.”

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