The supercharged atmosphere in The Cairn Hotel ballroom on Thursday will live long in the memory. After twelve months of campaigning against this ridiculous road we finally got the opportunity to give voice to our multiple objections to this destructive and heartbreaking scheme. The support we received from the audience was terrific and the weight of the arguments against the road made it really difficult for anybody sat around the table to disagree with them.
Having said that, the response of the great majority of the County Councillors took us by surprise, as one by one they lined up behind us to object to a road that would destroy Nidd Gorge and Bilton and voted to have it removed from the public consultation. It was indeed a sweet moment and a victory for local democracy and people power… but we have to be on our guard now to see off the road once and for all.
I have suspected all along that Councillor Don Mackenzie had promised to deliver this road on behalf of the ‘influential Traffic and Transport Forum’ (his own words) at the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce and believed he could use the Harrogate Relief Road Review procedures to steer it past any hostile opposition. Helped by the positive spin he was able to put on the road, via his column in the local newspaper, he was able to frame the debate and convince the uninformed that a new road was the answer to all our undoubted congestion difficulties .
Despite there being four routes on offer on the map, it was clear from the outset that the prize was always the inner relief road with a link into Bilton, a route that would open up the green spaces between Bilton and Starbeck for inevitable development. Congestion relief was the cause that would deliver the prized Green route and once it went to public consultation there would be enough people in the 48,000 Harrogate & District households ‘consulted’ who didn’t give a stuff for Bilton or Nidd Gorge, and who would vote for a road that promised them quicker car journeys across town.
Had the road made it to the public consultation stage we would all be fearing the worst. We have the County Councillors to thank for their informed intervention yesterday that has seemingly headed the road of at the pass; before people less affected by the road were given an equal voice to condemn Nidd Gorge, Bilton, Starbeck and Calcutt to the blight of an ineffective ‘relief road’.
We also have WSP, the transport consultants, to thank, for their very objective 317 page report that highlighted the sustainable measures package (B) as the best option for congestion relief in the town. They told us they would be taking a step back to look at all the options for congestion relief and they were true to their word. NYCC in their pre-release secretive press conference, again tried to spin the presentation of the report to focus on a road, but the devil was in the detail; and contrary to Councillor Mackenzie’s beliefs about the ignorant people of Bilton, we did actually read the report and found the evidence that, on its own, a road was the worst of the five options. It was only the complementary sustainable transport measures, tagged onto the road package, that made the road package (E) move up to second best of the five options.
But despite the euphoria of yesterday I say we have to now be on our guard, because the NYCC Executive may still be able to ignore the democratic will of the Harrogate Area County Councillors when they meet on the 15th December. Their update to the Harrogate Relief Road Progress Report, following yesterday’s events, sets out three options they can now take. I’ve highlighted the two options in bold that would bring the road threat back:
The Way Forward
7.1 On the basis of the resolution of the Area Committee and the information presented
in 6.5 to 6.7 above it is considered that there are three options available to progress
with the Harrogate Relief Road Review. These are:
1. To consult as originally proposed on both Package B and Package E whilst
noting the views and recommendations of the Area Committee.
2. To agree in principle with the recommendations of the Area Committee and
request that officers investigate the costs and timescales of any necessary
further work to develop Package B and assess the potential implications of
discounting package E at this early stage on the future Transport Business
Case and the potential for it to attract the necessary funding.
3. To undertake further development work on the sustainable transport elements
of both Package B and Package E with a view to a future decision on
consultation based on a greater level of assessment of the options.
One of the authors of this report is Andrew Bainbridge, the same council officer who, on Thursday, revealed the NYCC agenda with his Freudian slip ” when the road goes to public consultation” to howls of protest from the audience shouting “if” back at him.
As you can see there is a reluctance to ditch a road that they have long dreamed of and two of the options (1 & 3) allow them to bring the road back!
What sort of democracy are we living in??
You can read the whole progress report they will be guided by next Friday at: