Will big events on Stray ever happen again in Harrogate

The dust may not have settled on the debate over whether the Stray should be used for events like the UCI cycling championships in future but anyone expecting a radical change of policy is likely to be disappointed.

Monday, 9th December 2019, 9:37 am
Updated Monday, 9th December 2019, 12:43 pm

The news that popular rock music festival Harrogate Fake Festival is to return to the town’s precious parkland is a reflection that it’s business as usual for the Stray, well, almost.

Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser, Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper said the council would listen to feedback from residents but, fundamentally, the council would approach any application to hold an event on the Stray in the same away as before September’s controversial nine-day cycling event.

Coun Cooper said: “Mitigation against weather conditions to maintain the condition of the Stray has always been a factor when talking to anyone who is applying for an event.

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The footpaths across West Park Stray in Harrogate may have been reopened to the public but the site remains a mud bath. (Picture Gerard Binks)

“But we couldn’t have predicted the heaviest rainfall since the 1970s over nine days in September."

Lessons have clearly already been learned from the town’s experiences this year.

Coun Cooper confirmed the effects of bad weather on the Stray would be uppermost in their minds when considering future events.

He said: “It would seem self-evident that those mitigation measures need to cater for far heavier, more prolonged poor weather and that will remain a priority consideration in future.”

So heated has the argument become in recent weeks, some have been calling for no more big events such as the UCIs to be held on the Stray while others have argued the opposite, saying, in effect, “it’s only grass and it will grow back.”

Whatever the opinion, the situation on the Stray with the mud, the water and the fences is sufficiently serious that the Duchy of Lancaster, the ancient body responsible for managing an investment portfolio of land, property and financial investments across the country, including the Stray, got in touch with the Stray Defence Association on Tuesday.

The statement from the Duchy of Lancaster said: “We remain extremely concerned about the damage caused. The Stray is a much-loved and historic public amenity which must be respected and protected for future generations.”

In its recent discussions with Harrogate Borough Council, the Duchy of Lancaster has stressed that responsibility for ensuring its safekeeping lies with the council and it would be pressing it for updates on repairs.

The statement continued: “While the Duchy is the freehold owner of the Stray, responsibility for its management and care lies entirely with the council.

“We will continue to press the council for details of how they plan to deliver the urgent and effective remediation of one of Harrogate’s most treasured community spaces.”

Volunteer groups with the town’s best interests at heart would go further than that.

Both the Stray Defence Association and Harrogate Civic Society say it might be better for the Stray if only “light footprint” events were allowed.

Stuart Holland and Susan Amaku, co vice chairs of Harrogate Civic Society said: “The Stray Act restricts the type and duration of any events on the Stray but we would welcome being involved in any discussions about whether more use could be made of it for community events that have a ‘very light footprint’.

Judy D’Arcy Thompson, the chairman of the SDA which has been the subject of abuse from some in the social media world, said she was not against events in theory and supported the return of Harrogate Fake Festival next year.

But, she said, the Stray was a “green oasis” which belonged to the whole town and was protected by law for a good reason.

She said: “We are passionate about protecting the Stray but it’s special because it is an expanse of quiet, green space in the heart of Harrogate. But it is not really suited for the larger events which run for days, especially in wet weather.

“Beneath the grass there is only two feet of top soil, then it’s clay, and below that it’s water, hence Harrogate’s spa heritage. It’s prone to getting waterlogged as it is”

Harrogate Borough Council has committed itself to not apply for any further relxation of the Stray Act.

But the Ministry of Housing Communications and Local government has written to the SDA with what may prove to be the final word on the subject for the time being.

The letter reads: “Due to the position of the Duchy of Lancaster as landowner, it will not be possible for the department to consider any further applications in a similar vein to those made for the Tour de France, Tour de Yorkshire or UCI cycling championships.”