Harrogate's ancient Stray Act to be suspended for last time for UCI World Championships

Cycling on the Stray in Harrogate. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Cycling on the Stray in Harrogate. Picture: Tony Johnson.

AN ancient law concerning picturesque park land in Harrogate is set to be lifted for the last time so that the spa town can host the UCI World Championship cycling races.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government today agreed to temporarily remove restrictions on the use of the Stray after overwhelming support from the town’s residents and businesses.

Suspension of the 1985 Stray Act – the latest piece of law governing use of the park land since the original in 1770 – has been fraught with controversy.

The Act dictates that the land can only be used for 35 days of events each year and just 3.5 hectares can be shut off at one time.

Anything larger – such as hosting the UCI Championship finishing line – requires Harrogate Borough Council to apply to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for a temporary suspension.

The championship will take place for nine days, from September 21 to 29.

Work before and after at the site means it would be closed for 26 days from September 9 to October 4, but the enclosed space used is expected to be 17.5 hectares in size.

When HBC applied in July 2018 to suspend the Act, it was told by the Government that it could not continue to dedicate time and resources to grant temporary lifting of the restrictions. HBC agreed it would be last time it submit an application for suspension.

The Ministry yesterday published a consultation outcome granting the temporary lift.

Its report shows that three quarters (74 per cent) of representations received strongly agreed or agreed that Harrogate should be allowed to host the event, with just 25 per cent against.

The document reads: “The Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce responded favourably stating they are ‘generally in favour of events on the Stray which can help to encourage visitors to the town.

“In these economically difficult times for town centres it is felt that the use of the Stray in a measured and careful way can bring a benefit which would out way [sic] the worries of damage to this precious green space’.”

Those who made supportive comments “echoed the views of the Council that the race would bring significant benefits” to Harrogate, it added, and some said that part of the community wanted to see more of these types of events on the Stray.

Various councils from across Yorkshire also offered their support for the race.

However, the most frequent concern raised related to “honouring the purpose and ‘sanctity’ of the Stray,” the consultation found.

It added: “There were very strong views expressed about the disruption and inconvenience that would be caused to local residents, and there was also some confusion as to why the Department was carrying out a consultation when many announcements about the races and routes had already been made public.”

The consultation fetched 1,259 representations – a “significantly larger number” than those submitted for previous consultations regarding the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour de France, when 21 and 14 were received respectively.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP is due to put a draft order to Parliament to disapply or amend the old law using powers under the Localism Act 2011.

During a council meeting last year, Coun Stanley Lumley, cabinet member with responsibility for sport, said: “This will be the last time we will make application for a temporary change.

"There are no plans for us to ask for a permanent change to the act.”