1. The Economic case given for proceeding with the scheme is weak and based on evidence that has principally been taken in large urban environments such as London. It is heavily reliant on a piece of research conducted by University College London on behalf of Transport for London carried out in 2013, which has given rise to the claim that ‘over a month, people who walk to the high street spend up to 40% more than people who drive to the high street’. The quotation that ‘Walking, cycling and public realm improvements can increase retail sales by up to 30%’ is lifted from a report by Lawler from 2013 entitled The Pedestrian Pound, based on research in New York, among other urban settlements. Not only are these pieces of research up to ten years old, but none of the comparisons are relevant to a town of Harrogate’s modest size, which sits in a largely rural area with poor connectivity to outlying villages and towns. Despite our requests, no compelling economic case relevant to the specific demographic and topography of Harrogate has yet been produced to support the Project.
2. The James Street Survey, which examined the effects of pedestrianising Harrogate’s premier shopping street, was based on a sample of just 294 shoppers, and did not seek to take the views of business owners or employees. In fact, the Council has wholly ignored the views of Harrogate business throughout the consultation phase and has conducted no direct research of the views of business leaders or employees. The much larger sample that answered the Survey the Harrogate Chamber, BID and Independent Harrogate conducted in December 2021 received 1302 responses and found that 55 per cent felt ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’ towards the Station Gateway proposal. It is simply undemocratic to ignore an entire tranche of informed public opinion simply because it does not advance the aims of the Project. In any case, the findings from the James Street Survey showed that most James Street shoppers travelled by car and projected a 2% reduction in business activity if James Street was pedestrianised, surely not providing a compelling case for the pedestrianisation.
3. The public transport infrastructure in the Harrogate District is not yet ready for a large pedestrianisation project on this scale. Removing the ability of shoppers and commuters to travel into Harrogate by car, in the absence of a comprehensive rail and bus network, will lead to a hollowing out of the retail centre of the town. Over the last decade, greater investment should have been made into bus routes, when the opposite is now happening, and North Yorkshire County Council’s £116 million Bus Back Better bid has recently been rejected by the government. Cllr Kean Duncan has said that “the end of the Commercial Bus Services Support Grant provided by central government in October presents a potential cliff-edge in terms of the future profitability of routes our residents rely upon.” We strongly believe that public transport infrastructure must be improved before journeys by car are further curtailed.
4. The Project’s aims to increase journeys into Harrogate by bicycle show good intentions, but Harrogate’s topography is not flat, and presents a challenge to any cyclist. These challenges have been well appreciated by competitive and leisure cyclists in the last few years, particularly during the Tour De France and the UCI Championships, but are less conducive to a daily commute. In our view, it is unrealistic to expect a large number of commuter and shopper visits to Harrogate on bicycles.
5. We are concerned at the disruption that a project of this size would cause during its build phase, which could extend into 2024, after an initial estimate of late 2023. This could lead to some 12 months of heavy disruption on business, this on the back of the COVID lockdowns and distancing measures and UCI interruptions of the last three years. Town centre businesses have suffered disproportionately as a result of this disruption and with inflation rising above 13% will be suffering long into 2024, and desperately need an extended period of calm in order to trade uninterrupted.
6. We are also concerned that key elements of the scheme have been changed during the consultation period. Firstly, we note that in earlier versions of the plans, a right turn from Albert Street onto Station Parade would be possible. In the latest version of the plans, meaning that drivers being diverted from James Street will need to travel to Victoria Avenue in order to join Station Parade. Furthermore, in a Media Briefing on 15 July it was suggested that ‘inflation and the cost-of-living crisis are prompting concerns about whether the scheme can be delivered in full. Some cheaper materials could be used.’ Any significant change to the plans and mooted reduction in build quality compared with the plans that have been laid before the public would essentially not be the same scheme as proposed and should require a new consultation.
Therefore, we urge you to resist the lure of £10.9 million pounds of funding which we feel would be misdirected into this project, when there are many other issues that need greater attention, particularly improving public transport and the state of disrepair of many of Harrogate’s streets and roads.
To conclude, we concur with the Harrogate Advertiser journalist Graham Chalmer’s view, expressed in July 2020, that
‘Pedestrianisation in itself is no guarantee of success if that is the only trick up your sleeve.
‘It must have been about 35 years ago when the cobbled stones of its town centre packed with traffic made way for a car-less paradise. Today, thanks to how the economy has changed, the vast majority of retail units in Falkirk town centre now lie empty in a concrete desert.’
It is not difficult to envisage this happening in Harrogate if greater care is not sufficiently taken of its existing fragile infrastructure.