Column – Transport Talk with Don Mackenzie

Cycling facilities in Harrogate are expanding. Visit www.openharrogate.com for further details.
Cycling facilities in Harrogate are expanding. Visit www.openharrogate.com for further details.

Following publication of Transport Talk and media releases from North Yorkshire County Council, many comments have been received from members of the public. Here is a summary of the points raised, and my responses.

The main theme of comments in support of our draft proposals is the view that, at last, priority is being given to fundamental upgrading of our highways infrastructure.

More information is awaited regarding the choice of preferred route, and respondents wish to be kept fully informed as we move forward.

I give this unequivocal assurance now: each step we take on this project will be made public by regular media updates from NYCC communications and this column. We also intend to keep our website regularly updated. Here is the link: http://www.northyorks.gov.uk/hrr.

County highways officers and I know that we need to win the support of a majority of residents for whatever proposal is eventually chosen as the bid for funding.

There was support from residents of Knaresborough, who rightly expect that the Relief Road should bring benefits to their town too, especially by reducing traffic volumes at the Air Quality Management locations at Bond End and York Place.

A few respondents considered my Transport Talk article last month to be pie-in-the-sky. I understand that. We have, indeed, been here before and nothing happened. I cannot guarantee that this time we will end up with a Relief Road, but I believe we need to give it a go.

Many responses have come from cyclists. Some were made public in letters to this newspaper, others on social media. Some have been supportive, others have rejected the very idea of spending £100m on a new road, suggesting the money be used instead on alternative measures.

The radical view is that allowing congestion to keep on increasing will eventually lead to the abandonment of cars in favour of cycling and walking.

I am sure that there is some truth in that, but it carries the risk that while we wait for the modal shift to happen, there would be unacceptable consequences, with negative impacts on our daily lives.

Above all, excessive congestion is bad for the economy of the town, and puts off visitors, on whom many businesses depend.

The Relief Road Steering Group (made up of Couns Rebecca Burnett, Michael Harrison and me) has already taken the decision to recommend that, no matter which of the route options is chosen, the Relief Road package should include dedicated cycling and walking facilities along the new road and elsewhere.

We have already done much to encourage cycling including the creation of a network of cycle routes (see www.openharrogate.com) but we can do more by removing traffic from the town centre.

We believe it is preferable to target improvements in road AND cycling and walking infrastructure, while at the same time investing in public transport like trains and buses. Town centre parking controls, for example, are not only a means of managing traffic but they can also encourage residents and visitors, who are able to do so and where practicable, to leave their cars at home and get on a train or bus or bike, or to walk.

Our traffic modelling shows that the Relief Road options will bring about big reductions in traffic volumes on existing roads, like Skipton Road and Wetherby Road in Harrogate and High Street in Knaresborough, making them much better and safer for cyclists than they would otherwise be.

Finally there are environmental concerns expressed by several persons about the effects of a new road being built in the Nidd Gorge between Harrogate and Knaresborough. It was pointed out that this area is an extension of the green belt to the south, created to stop urbanisation between Leeds, Harrogate and Knaresborough. That is correct and such status will offer great protection against unwanted housing or industrial development, which respondents feared a new road may attract.

Harrogate planning officers have confirmed that green belt status does not rule out the building of a new road, as long as it can be proved that such a road is appropriate and brings wider benefits to the communities which it serves.

Tesco pulls out

Tesco announced last Wednesday that they have cancelled plans to build a superstore next to the New Park roundabout. We now know for certain what many of us had suspected for some time.

It had been suggested that failure to reach agreement on traffic management during construction was causing the hold-up. Certainly there were concerns about a lengthy closure of the A59, but these could have been resolved. It is clear that, five years after planning permission was granted, the market place has changed and the business case no longer stood up for the company.