Harrogate councillor hits back at 'badly-worded' Save Nidd Gorge petition

An autumn scene at Nidd Gorge.
An autumn scene at Nidd Gorge.

A senior councillor at the helm of plans to tackle congestion has hit back at “wrong” claims ahead of an action group’s presentation about a relief road it is thought would cut through a beauty spot.

More than 2,300 people have signed a petition titled Save Nidd Gorge and The Nidderdale Greenway in response to North Yorkshire County Council’s (NYCC) delayed consultation on plans to relieve traffic and air pollution in the area.

On Thursday, members of the County Area Committee for the Harrogate District will hear from Chris Kitson, chairman of the Nidd Gorge Community Action group.

Last December, the committee’s councillors voted by 14 votes to two to remove a relief road option, which would potentially pass through the Bilton fields area close to the gorge, from a planned public consultation.

In response, NYCC is re-drafting blueprints, although Coun Don Mackenzie, the authority’s executive member for highways, said no date had been set for when these would be published.

Mr Kitson, a 49-year-old teacher, set up the petition after learning the relief road package would not be scrapped from the upcoming consultation, believing democracy was “over-ruled”.

He said: “Coun Don Mackenzie’s argument is that there is plenty of room for the Nidd Gorge, Nidderdale Greenway and the road to co-exist.

“Well there isn’t, actually. There may be physical room but in enabling this co-existence to happen we are ruining the Nidd Gorge. You would be able to hear the road, you would able to hear the traffic.

“It’s really well used. It’s tranquil. You’ve got a place of escape, you feel you are actually in the countryside when you are just on the edge of the urban area.

“It’s a magical place to have on your doorstep but it wouldn’t be magical if there’s a road going through it. That’s what I’ll be saying at the presentation.”

He believes that the Bilton fields approach, which was included on maps for a potential road, are important to the gorge area as a whole. And he fears that if the plan was included in a consultation, many people who live on the edge of Leeds and York being asked for views could see the road as a quick fix for congestion.

Coun Mackenzie hit back at Mr Kitson’s claims. He said: “For the sake of democracy I would rather hear what 100,000 people have to say than 2,000 people who have signed a petition which, frankly, I think is a badly-worded one.”

Describing the campaigner’s claims as “wrong”, he added: “I’m not setting out to destroy the Nidd Gorge. Nidd Gorge is a relatively narrow, steep-sided river valley. There is certainly no question that we are going to be putting a road into the Nidd Gorge.”

Coun Richard Cooper was one of the members who voted against the road’s inclusion in any consultation last December. He said: “I don’t see it solving the problem. Ninety-three per cent of the traffic is internal [in urban areas], only seven per cent is through-traffic. It wouldn’t solve the problem. It would in my view be an environmental disaster.”

Coun Cooper added that he does not believe NYCC would get funding to create it – the authority has said that it would need the Government to pay for the road, which could cost between £70m and £100m and be completed in 2024 at the earliest.