Margaret Smith, chair of Harrogate & Knaresborough Constituency Labour Party, said: "I find it unbelievable that at the first meeting of North Yorkshire County Councils' Harrogate Congestion Study – Engagement Group, that interested members of the public were prevented entry by paid security guards. "Surely public involvement should be encouraged for an “engagement” group."
Coun Don MacKenzie, the county council's executive member for access, said the meeting had never been intended to be a public one and that all possible options remained on the table for discussion going forward.In addition, he said, all deliberations, comments and presentations made at Engagement Group meetings would be made public on the North Yorkshire County Council website.He said: "Four uninvited people turned up this morning at the inaugural meeting of the Engagement Group but were refused entry. "The meeting was not a public one and was never intended as such. Much more meaningful progress can be made when meetings are properly organised so that everyone present can have their say."
The latest spat over what to do about traffic congestion follows a heated meeting in early December last year at the same venue attended by angry action groups qhich saw councillors on North Yorkshire County Council's Harrogate District Area Committee reject overwhelming a relief road option from Bilton through the Nidd Gorge area as part of the council's Harrogate Relief Road Review project.Instead, councillors voted in favour of exploring 'sustainable' and environmentally-friendly measures.Afterwards, the council announced it would look in greater detail at potential solutions to Harrogate and Knaresborough’s congestion problems.This were to include sustainable transport improvements, measures to manage demand and an inner relief road option.As part of a process leading to future public consultation and putting a possible funding case to the Department of Transport, the council decided to set up the Harrogate Congestion Study – Engagement Group.
Some local opponents of a relief road in the Nidd Gorge area, question the membership of the Engagement Group when it met for the first time yesterday.They say, although it does contain a few 'green' groups, it is weighted towards national business and transport organisations.They also point out that no national groups reflecting environmental interests or sustainable transport interests are represented on the Harrogate Congestion Study – Engagement Group.
Margaret Smith said she, too, was a little worried by the group's make-up.She said: "Regarding the constituents of the group, it is interesting to note that there are a number of national Transport Bodies invited such as Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association but, apparently, there are no national bodies with a focus on sustainable transport or expertise in that area."
But Coun Don MacKenzie said the group had not made up its mind in advance and contained a wide cross-section of people and groups to investigate traffic solutions thoroughly."I believe that this is a very effective group of organisations to give us excellent, meaningful advice on how we are to tackle the threats posed by increasing congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough."It is worth bearing in mind that the issue before the Engagement Group at the moment is what are the options on which to carry out a consultation with the 100,000 residents of the Harrogate and Knaresborough area. "In other words, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future for everyone to give their views."
Invitees to the meeting yesterday as part of the Engagement Group:Facilitator: Ian Fielding, Assistant Director NYCC• Harrogate Congestion Steering Group Members (County Councillors Don Mackenzie and Michael Harrison, and District Councillor Phillip Ireland)• Knaresborough Town Council• Killinghall Parish Council• NYCC Youth Voice Executive (Harrogate rep)• Harrogate Chamber of Trade• York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce• Federation of Small Businesses• Freight Transport Association• Road Haulage Association• Bus Operators (Transdev and Connexions)• Northern (Train Operating Company)• Taxi operators/private hire organisations• Zero Carbon Harrogate• Bilton Conservation Group• Harrogate Cycle Action Group• Sustrans• Visit Harrogate• Harrogate Cycle Forum • Nidd Gorge Community Action
Readers have reacted to the Harrogate Advertiser's report by posting their opinions on Facebook:
Nathan Everett SmithIf it’s an official public meeting then people who have good behaviour should always be allowed in, depending on space of course.
Debbie DilasserMembers of the public denied entry to this meeting, by paid (from public purse) security guards. Disgraceful.