Independent Harrogate, the voice of almost 200 local town centre businesses, welcomes the news in the Sunday press that, to help the high street recover, the government recognises that planning rules should be dramatically changed and businesses be able to change their use with complete flexibility. There is apparently now backing for a new fast-track system for developers of high quality, well-designed buildings.
Town centre businesses have seen the present planning regime as one of the major reasons preventing a new approach to the regeneration of Harrogate town centre. Today’s news is a breath of fresh air, as our councils are ploughing ahead with a multi-million pound “Masterplan” for the redevelopment of the town centre (devised before the national brands started leaving town, the commercial disaster of the UCI event, the recent growth of online shopping and now Covid-19) which is based on Harrogate six years ago which then had a “a thriving retail centre” which no longer exists.
Is it too much to hope that our leaders will at last understand that the world has changed irrevocably and the current plans need to be abandoned and re-thought. Hoping this could be at least one silver lining of the pandemic.
Local planning and financing is long, complicated and bureaucratic. Local development plans are built on rails and not designed to make ‘U’ turns.
However, times have changed and, as local businesses have explained on many occasions, Harrogate town centre is at a dangerous tipping point, and now Covid is driving a change in approach that could allow the use of our town centre to be rethought in novel ways. If ever there was a need for a Town Team of all the talents (not monopolised by our local authorities) this is the time for it.
Independent Harrogate’s recent manifesto imagined a well conceived, mixed use town centre accessed by zero carbon transport (including cars) which through a high quality offering of shopping, culture and residential use would again be a magnet for specialist businesses, visitors and residents alike. Could Covid be the unlikely catalyst for this?
Wouldn’t it be great to think that there is in Harrogate the necessary business acumen, imagination, flair and common-sense to seize this opportunity, to put aside political issues, personal ambition and inertia and for all of us to pull together in the same direction for the common good of our town.