What is fuelling the A61 row - the story behind Harrogate's hottest debate over traffic and the environment

The tide of opinion on a return to the days of two-way traffic on Parliament Street in Harrogate has not been stemmed by what was a pretty firm response by the county’s transports leaders.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 3:16 pm
Updated Friday, 11th June 2021, 3:28 pm
Traffic as it is now on Parliament Street, Harrogate. (Picture Gerard Binks)

But is the row over this crucial Harrogate through road linking the town (and Ripon) to Leeds really as clear cut as the proponents or the county council argue, though from different directions?

If anyone thought last week’s revelations about the potential cost of reviving two-way traffic on the A61 in Harrogate would be the end of the story, the reaction provoked since then proves otherwise.

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Since North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for transport told the Harrogate Advertiser a return to the pre-1971 traffic system on Parliament Street might cost as much as £30 million, champions of the idea have shown absolutely no signs of backing down.

Pleas by Coun Don Mackenzie that the A61 issue is a distraction from the current Gateway project - funded by a £7.9m budget from the Government to improve Harrogate town centre in the Station Parade area specifically with a series of sustainable transport measures - appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Despite the hefty price tag of bringing back southbound traffic on the A61 through Parliament Street and West Park for the first time in 50 years, voices in the Harrogate community continue to argue that the county council should, at the very least, conduct a feasibility study into the idea.

Among those supporting the idea are cycling campaigners, opposition politicians and some of the town’s most prominent civic guardians.

Writing to the Harrogate Advertiser this week, the founder member of Harrogate Wheel Easy, Malcolm Margolis, who received the British Empire Medal from the Queen for services to cycling in 2019, wrote that cost alone should not be the top priority.

“The cost of a feasibility study is put at £50,000. That sounds to me like money well spent on such a fundamental proposal which could transform our town centre.”

Mr Margolis’s thoughts on the matter are shared by Harrogate Civic Society and Harrogate Lib Dem opposition leader Coun Pat Marsh who on Monday backed the idea publically.

Coun Marsh said: “I would back a study into reinstituting a two-way system on the A61 at West Park and Parliament Street. The A61 might be a solution to keeping traffic moving after the Gateway project happens in Station Parade.

“Potentially you could totally pedestrianise the area with a cycle path in the area between the bus station and the shops.”

Road improvements and junction changes may already be envisaged for streets such as Bower Road, Cheltenham Parade and Station Parade itself as part of Gateway but concern persists that there is a lack of an integrated traffic policy for the wider area in Harrogate as the town enters an era of transport reforms to tackle the climate emergency.

Harrogate and District Green Party’s Rebecca Maunder is not alone in claiming current plans appear piecemeal and don’t connect with wider traffic reduction aims.

She said: “The requests to reintroduce two-way traffic on West Park, and ‘counter’ suggestions to the Gateway plans really highlight the need for a fully joined-up transport infrastructure plan.

“Plans need to be developed throughout the county and beyond with local communities’ input to improve connectivity and show that sustainable travel can be easy, fast and healthy when the right infrastructure and services are in place.”

Transport leaders at North Yorkshire County Council refute the suggestion that plans for one-lane traffic on Station Parade would create any significant traffic congestion on other streets and, indeed, add that the data and modelling they have carried out proves this is not the case.

The clear priority for NYCC is to ensure the Gateway project is completed, with the recent A61 debate now seemingly serving as an unwelcome distraction.

Coun Don Mackenzie has this week told the Harrogate Advertiser that he was not prepared to consider a new study into the A61 - especially when the issue was scarcely raised by anyone during the lengthy consultations required by the Harrogate Congestion Study which then led to the Gateway project.

He confirmed that no A61 survey would be carried out as part of the Gateway project as he did not believe it was an answer to the town’s traffic problems. However, he has accepted that should Gateway be concluded as planned, and if car use was reduced significantly, then there may be a time in the future to look again at the A61.

He said: “I am not prepared to ask for a detailed viability study into this proposal.

“It would be expensive and likely give rise to another divisive debate at a time when the county council needs to move forward with schemes that the public, in their 15,500-reply response to the Harrogate Congestion Study consultation, asked us to do: invest in measures to promote sustainable travel, boost the use of public transport, and discourage the use of the motor car.

“There was a demand expressed during the Harrogate Congestion Study for a new bypass to alleviate increased traffic volumes in the rapidly expanding Killinghall.

“But there was no demand in those responses for us to re-route the A61.

“I can envisage a situation in the future when car use has declined markedly in favour of public transport and sustainable travel that it may be appropriate to reinstate two-way traffic on Parliament Street and West Park, but doubling the number of vehicle movements on the A61 now would lead, I believe, to intolerable levels of congestion, much worse air quality, increased noise, and a marked division of the town centre.”

Coun Mackenzie also pointed out that the potential £30m budget for A61 changes would have to somehow be secured from the Government.

But campaigners say the costs of changing the A61 to a two-way carriageway have to be seen in the context of other recent county council transport schemes.

Some have pointed to the multi-million pound projects which have already been dicussed and even completed in the region... and are asking why Harrogate cannot have £30m spent on what they see as a solution to traffic troubles.

Harrogate resident Neil Trickey said: “Coun Mackenzie has provided an estimate of at least £30m to revert the A61 to it’s 1971 configuration, presumably in an attempt to persuade us that the huge cost does not make the change worthwhile.

“But he has previously reported that the Killinghall Bypass would cost £20m. It is also noted that the 4.8km Bedale Bypass, opened in 2016, cost just £35m for a completely new road.

“Why does it cost £30m to reconfigure Parliament Street and West Park, with no new construction?”

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