Harrogate Christmas market row escalates after council ditches organisers following tense meeting over alternative sites

Harrogate Council has begun talks with a new organiser for the town’s Christmas market after rejecting a licence for the event over health and safety concerns.

The market usually takes place on Montpellier Hill, but the council feels the 200-stall event has 'outgrown' this location

The four-day market attracts around 80,000 visitors and is usually held on the Stray at Montpellier Hill, but the council last month announced it would not allow the event to go ahead there due to the risks of overcrowding and Covid.

It also said the event management plan from current organisers “did not fully take into account” evacuation procedures and counter-terrorism measures.

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Event organiser Brian Dunsby, who along with colleagues created the event on Montpellier Hill, met with council officials today with hopes of resolving these issues and to also discuss alternative locations.

But soon after the meeting the council announced these discussions had failed and that it “would now move forward to ensure Harrogate hosts safe, vibrant and attractive Christmas festivities this year.”

A council spokesperson said: “Despite our best efforts, the organisers of Harrogate Christmas Market still believe that there are no alternative locations that are suitable for a Christmas market in Harrogate town centre.

“At a meeting this morning, officers discussed a number of viable alternative locations but these have been refused.

“The organisers also tried to use this opportunity to pursue conversations over the viability of Montpellier Hill and the submitted event management plan. Our decision on Montpellier Hill still remains.

“Another event organiser has approached us with great enthusiasm to bring their business and expertise to Harrogate town centre this Christmas. And we will now actively work with them to help formalise that discussion.”

The spokesperson also said an announcement about the new organisers would be made later this week and that the council was still open to Mr Dunsby submitting alternative plans.

Mr Dunsby said in a statement that he and his colleagues thought today’s meeting was “promising” and that they were “amazed” by the council’s response.

He said: “We are amazed at the council’s rapid publication of such a hostile statement following our positive meeting.

“We went through our detailed analysis of the pros and cons of ten alternative locations in or near the town centre without finding one that could possibly accommodate the existing Harrogate Christmas Market with nearly 200 stalls.

“We felt that the discussion was promising and we undertook to revisit all the outstanding issues raised by the police, fire and ambulance services following the last actual event in 2019.

“We have undertaken to revise the event plan and resubmit it for further assessment which we hope will be positive.

“If the council wishes to invite an alternative organiser to put on Christmas festivities in the town centre during December then that would be up to them.”

The market was called off last year due to Covid, although organisers moved the event online with a website promoting stall holders.

At the time, a study estimated the cancellation came at a cost of £2.7m to Harrogate’s economy.