By Coun Don MacKenzie
In the first of a new series The Way Ahead about Harrogate's traffic problems and various people's ideas on how to solve them, the Harrogate Advertiser’s Graham Chalmers talks to North Yorkshire County Councillor Don Mackenzie about his vision for the future on this subject.
A man at the forefront in the debate about how to tackle growing congestion on the roads in Harrogate and Knaresborough, Don serves as county councillor for Harrogate Saltergate Division, and is NYCC’s Executive Member for Access, a portfolio which includes highways and public transport.
Graham Chalmers: What in your opinion are the infrastructure challenges facing Harrogate and Knaresborough?
Coun Don Mackenzie: “There has been no significant road infrastructure improvement in Harrogate and Knaresborough since the Southern Bypass was completed nearly 30 years ago. Following a sharp increase in vehicle ownership since then, and after all the residential and commercial development that has taken place, congestion has got worse.
“The strain on our roads is plain to see. Queues of traffic build up at peak times on our main roads like Skipton Road and Wetherby Road and through Knaresborough, and many of our junctions are close to capacity. Drivers increasingly avoid the main roads and instead use minor roads, which are not built to take the additional traffic.
“Congestion brings problems with air quality. There are now three so-called Air Quality Management Areas in Harrogate and Knaresborough, and the primary cause is emissions from standing traffic.
“It is not difficult to identify the basic problem: increasing number of vehicles on a road infrastructure which has not changed in 30 years. A remedy could be: a sharp reduction in vehicle journeys by offering alternative means of transport; providing more highways space and options; a mixture of the first two.
“In due course, NYCC would like to hear from the residents of Harrogate and Knaresborough what they think the remedy is.”
GC: If we could deal with these problems successfully, what would that mean for Harrogate and Knaresborough?
DM: “A successful local economy needs good, modern transport infrastructure. Our companies need efficient transport links, and many rely on business and leisure visitors. Congestion, poor transport links and long journey times will not help our towns to thrive.
“Harrogate Borough Council’s draft Local Plan, which is currently out for public consultation, anticipates faster residential and commercial expansion than we have seen for many years. Its ambitions include building 669 new homes every year and creating a favourable environment for new businesses and jobs to come into the district.”
“If we get the transport infrastructure right, there will be no holding back the local economy.”
GC: Does NYCC still intend to consult with the public on proposals to reduce congestion?
DM: “Yes, later this year. We plan to give some 100,000 residents of Harrogate and Knaresborough the opportunity to give their views on two proposed ways forward:
“A package of sustainable transport enhancements and incentives to change travel behaviour,
“A package of sustainable transport enhancements and a relief road.
“Residents will have the opportunity to express their opinions. Do they believe that further investment in sustainable transport and measures to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home will be enough to reduce congestion, or do they think that, additionally, we need to upgrade our road infrastructure? “
GC: Some people have been vocal in their opposition to a relief road. How do you respond to that?
DM: “Let me make clear that NYCC is in not committed to building a relief road. Our objective is to reduce congestion by measures which work.
“If public consultation reveals that most residents believe that we can beat congestion by boosting public and sustainable transport, and by persuading people out of their cars and on to buses, bikes and to walk, then we would not pursue a relief road option at this time.
“The relief road option is precisely that – an option, but it is one that we have to include at the start of any process to bid for funding unless there are very good reasons to exclude it from the outset.”
Part 2 to follow
Please note, in future weeks, The Way Ahead will feature the views of the business community, environmental campaigners and other groups.