New look at town's traffic woes

A consultation over options to ease traffic woes in one of the region's most congested towns has been postponed in the wake of overwhelming opposition.

North Yorkshire County Council, looking at ways to ease congestion in Harrogate, had been set to launch a consultation in coming days over a potential relief road through the Nidd Gorge.

Now, after the plans were met with heated debate and opposition from district councillors, the authority has agreed to “look in greater detail” at potential solutions.

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“We were looking at consulting on too little information,” conceded David Bowe, corporate director for Business and Environmental Services (BES) at the authority. “It was not precise enough for people to take a considered view.”

But, he stressed, options for a relief road must still be considered, as discounting it at this early stage could rule out any future business case for funding from the Department for Transport.

“We have to develop the right thing for the people of Harrogate and Knaresborough and follow the DFT process to allow us to be competitive in any bid for national funds.”

Harrogate and Knaresborough has long had issues over congestion, with Skipton Road regularly listed as one of the busiest roads in the country.

A two year review by NYCC had drawn up options around sustainable transport solutions, measures to manage demand and, most controversially, a potential relief road.

There were heated scenes at an Area Committee Meeting in Harrogate earlier this month when the report was presented to district councillors for consideration, with shouts from the gallery as more than 100 members of the public turned out to voice their opposition.

District councillors, concerned about building yet more roads as well the impact on an area of beauty, had called to push forward sustainable transport measures only and abandon consideration of a relief road.

Now, the authority has agreed to postpone the consultation until at least next summer, as well as to carry out further study on refining the possible route of any relief road.

The work could also identify whether this would meet the DfT’s minimum economic expectations for such a project and could inform a decision on whether to proceed.

“It is more important that we get this right than that we rush it,” said Mr Bowe.

County Coun Don Mackenzie, BES cabinet member, said they could explore sustainable and demand management options, but that there was no shortage of public transport.

“I am not wedded to a relief road, I am wedded to reducing congestion for Harrogate and Knaresborough,” he said. “Many of our businesses rely on visitors, many of whom arrive by road and we don’t want them to face congestion.”

He said alternative options to cut congestion could result instead in hefty hikes for car parking or a congestion charge to act as a deterrent - which would be equally unpopular as a relief road.

“There are some difficult decisions ahead,” he added.

An engagement group is now to be established, bringing in organisations and businesses.

The measures outlined for consultation had sparked concern from campaigners, fearful over the impact of any relief road. Mr Bowe, in response to a petition presented at yesterday’s meeting bearing 2,400 signatures, assured residents it was not the intention to harm the landscape.

And leader of Harrogate Borough Council, Coun Richard Cooper, speaking after yesterday’s meeting, said the postponement of the consultation was a “sea change” in direction: “I’m pleased they did the study - the results are enough for me to disregard a relief road through the Nidd Gorge right now. If consulting on a relief road is a tactic to allow us to get funding for sustainable measures, then I’m happy.”