At the recent second meeting of the Harrogate Congestion Study Engagement Group, NYCC transport planners were asked why the Inner Relief Road was still an option on the table when it would destroy the quality of life in Bilton.
A relief road was just one of 38 options initially developed as possible interventions to deal with Harrogate and Knaresborough’s congestion problems when transport consultants WSP were compiling the Options Assessment Report last year – a crucial part of the formerly named Harrogate Relief Road Review process.
At the start of this report WSP set out 5 Strategic Level Objectives that NYCC and Harrogate Borough Council want the review, now renamed the Harrogate Congestion Study, to achieve.
- SO1: Support the sustainable growth of Harrogate and Knaresborough in line with national, regional and local policies and plans.
- SO2: Improve the quality of life for local communities.
- SO3: Support sustainable economic growth.
- SO4: Protect and enhance the built and natural environment.
- SO5: Improve east-west connectivity.
The report goes on to show how, when modelling of the different relief road routes was carried out, planners found that an inner route (blue or green) with a link into Bilton Lane “provided the greatest level of relief across the network” and “is forecast to result in a 48% reduction in traffic on the A59 Skipton Road and a 45% reduction on the A661”
In their summary of the report, however, NYCC admit that this reduction comes at a heavy cost to Bilton:
“Both of the inner route options (inner northern and inner southern) could link into Bilton Lane to provide a more direct access to Harrogate town centre. This would significantly increase the traffic reductions on the main radial routes into the town centre. For example in the morning peak a link into Bilton Lane would divert approximately 25% more traffic away from the A59 Skipton Road and approximately 20% more from the A661 Wetherby Road. This would however lead to significantly more traffic using Bilton Lane in the morning peak hour with it carrying over around 1000 vehicles per hour compared to approximately 120 per hour currently.”
At the recent meeting, on 26th June, when NYCC transport planners were ‘inviting challenge’, Nidd Gorge Communitry Action asked why an inner relief road was still an option when one of the ‘strategic high level outcomes’ of the Harrogate Relief Road Review was to ‘improve the quality of life for all communities’. How was it able to get to the brink of public consultation when the quality of life for Bilton residents will obviously deteriorate, due to congestion, noise, air quality and the destruction of the vital recreational amenity: Nidd Gorge.
NGCA were concerned that the positive impact of the road had been exaggerated by planners at each stage of the review so far, when, on its way to the brink of public consultation, the road managed to pass through two checkpoints where the negative impacts had been downplayed or overlooked.
The first checkpoint was an ‘initial sift’ of all 38 interventions designed to to identify any ‘showstoppers’ – reasons that would prevent an intervention progressing to a subsequent stage of the assessment. In this sift, incredibly, the road scored positively for: Improving the health of local residents; Increasing modal shift to more sustainable forms of transport; Increasing levels of walking and cycling for utility purposes; Reducing congestion on through routes. High scores which were very questionable and enabled the road to pass through to the second checkpoint: the Early Assessment Sifting Tool (EAST).
Once the road was safely through the Initial Sift it was put into 3 out of 5 potential packages of measures for congestion reduction. On its own, in Package C, the road was the worst scoring package in the EAST assessment, getting a clear red light for its environmental impact when RAG rated against the other packages.
However, when it was included in Package E, along with a host of other, more environmentally friendly measures, that enabled it to score highly, it came second in the rankings to Package B, the 100% environmentally friendly option.
The high scoring of Package E was also questioned by NGCA because, amongst the many points of challenge to the EAST assessment we had, the package with the road was given the same rating for ‘local environmental impact’ as the 100% environmentally friendly package, B.
Fortunately for us all, in December last year, our local County Councillors recognised the danger of the road getting through to a public consultation and voted overwhelmingly to remove Package E as an option, thereby stalling the progress of the road by twelve months. But, because they were merely a ‘consultee’ in the process, that appears designed to enable a road to be built come what may, NYCC were able to keep the road on the table after ignoring the wishes of the locally elected Harrogate Area county councillors.
Nidd Gorge Community Action contend that if the public were to be consulted on a road package the powerful voices of the road lobby could be very persuasive. They would have the money and the media platform to convince the wider district that a road will be the answer to their prayers and drown out the protests from Bilton. This has been their strategy from the start and the review process has been designed to overcome all opposition.
Recent news that NYCC are preparing to ditch their historically retained route for the outer northern bypass in favour of the inner Bilton route is a wake up call for the people of Bilton.
A major A59 east to west upgrade is coming through Nidd Gorge, around the back of the houses on Tennyson Ave and Woodfield Road and across the bottom of Bilton Lane. It will bring a 672% increase in traffic onto our streets. The time to act is now!