Harrogate Borough Council is stepping up its efforts to reassure anxious residents over its controversial proposals for the future of the Stray.
After an outpouring of interest on the issue from Harrogate Advertiser readers, the council’s deputy leader Coun Michael Harrison has written to clear up what he says are “misconceptions” over the bid to relax the rules on holding public events on Harrogate’s most cherished green space.
And he pledged there would be “no buildings, car parks or tarmac” on the 200 acres of open grass land.
He said the current period of public consultation about amending the Stray Act had seized the public imagination with more than 600 responses submitted already. But he said some of the views expressed on the Harrogate Advertiser’s Letters page implying the council wished to hold more events to generate revenue for itself were “wide of the mark.”
Coun Harrison said: “What is clear from reading some contributions to this newspaper, is that there are some misconceptions about the intention of the consultation and I want to reassure those people who are concerned that amending the Stray Act will have a detrimental effect.”
He also said the council was concerned its intention to allow the public to make their own suggestions about changing the 1985 Act of Parliament which safeguards the Stray was in danger of being misinterpreted.
And Coun Harrison added: “The questions in the public consultation are deliberately broad so as not to influence the public in their responses.
"However, it is becoming clear that this stance can lead people to think that we are not being open as to our intentions, which is simply not the case.”
“We are not seeking to ‘overturn the act’, there will be no buildings, car parks or tarmac. This is not an opportunity for a ‘free for all’, and absolutely not the ‘thin end of a wedge’.”
Other important points made by the council's deputy leader about the council's plans for the Stray and the Stray Act included:
“We have no intention of drastically increasing the number of events held on the Stray or extending the area used by the vast majority of events. Part of its charm is that it is a peaceful place where you can go to relax and we have no intention of changing this.
“Under the Stray Act, the total time any part of the Stray can be enclosed for events must not exceed 35 days in any one year. This also includes the time required to set up and take down the events.
“For instance, whilst the Harrogate Christmas Market ran for four days, it actually took up eight days of the allowance.
“With the Spring and Autumn pleasure fairs and the Harrogate bonfire, the allowance is quickly used up.
“With this in mind, a suggestion could be for the 35 days limit to remain, but for it to exclude the time that is taken for an event to be set up and broken down."
“Initial feedback from respondents has suggested that there is no need to increase the maximum size of small events from 3.5 hectares in size,
“However there is an appetite for occasional larger events, perhaps one or two a year and we need to ensure that we are able to facilitate this."
“Currently, larger events are prohibited within the restrictions of the Stray Act. The council has to apply to Parliament for a temporary relaxation of some of the rules. Government has made it very clear to us that this costly, highly irregular, complex and time-consuming process will not be tolerated indefinitely.
“If Harrogate wishes to hold large events such as the Tour de Yorkshire or the Tour de France in the future, then the Stray Act will need to be amended to include a mechanism to allow this – subject to safeguards.
“Residents must understand that there is no prospect of repeated requests to suspend parts of the Stray Act being granted by Parliament."
“Suggestions that we are primarily wishing to hold more events to generate revenue for the council are wide of the mark.
“This consultation is fundamentally about how events on the Stray can benefit the community and have a positive long term impact on the economy of the district."
“Following the consultation, the results will be sent to the Duchy of Lancaster so that they can gain a clear picture of what the people of Harrogate want. Should the decision be made to produce detailed proposals, then the public will have a further opportunity to give their views.
“I believe that having more flexibility over how the Stray can be used would have a real benefit for everyone – subject to safeguards being in place.”
The council's public consultation runs until February 6, 2017 at www.harrogate.gov.uk/strayact
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