With just four weeks until the General Election, the Harrogate Advertiser Series is taking a look at the key battlegrounds the candidates for the Harrogate and Knaresborough and Skipton and Ripon constituencies will be debating in a bid to win your vote. This week, DAN WINDHAM looks at traffic and transport.
Traffic and transport dominates personal and professional lives in the Harrogate district. Whether we’re stuck on ‘cattle trucks’ or waiting impatiently in traffic on Leeds Road, everybody has an opinion on travelling in the area.
We spend hours every week on public transport, or in our own cars and a significant portion of our wages on it. Thus, the importance of this issue in the build up to the General Election has not been lost an anyone, including the parliamentary candidates in the Harrogate and Knaresborough and Skipton and Ripon constituencies.
Whoever takes the seats will have to focus their attentions on the future of electrification, the need for improved bus services and availability and the mounting road improvements and inevitable congestions.
Traffic and tranpsort issues
In March this year, the Leeds-Harrogate-York line was named as a ‘top priority’ for electrification by the government. The news came as welcome recognition to Harrogate’s Chamber of Trade and Commerce as it would ensure modern rolling stock, increased frequency and shorter journey times. However, with the money not yet formally secured, our new MP will have to work hard to ensure this promise, as well as the £400million boost to the economy, is delivered. Residents will also be hoping to see the end of outdated ‘cattle trucks’ being used, a halt to the hiking of rail fares and the delivery of the promise of more direct trains to London in the next five years.
Harrogate has been blighted in recent weeks by a siege of roadworks, so much so that even the council leader has called for a break. Temporary traffic lights on Claro work, ongoing work on the A59 junction of Bogs Lane and a new traffic island on Skipton Road have all but ground down Harrogate to a halt. Suggestions to ease traffic chaos on Leeds road by scrapping parking outside shops has been met with a furious backlash from shopkeepers so residents will be hoping for sterner action and clearer ideas. The new MP will be expected to introduce better scheduling of road improvements to bring minimised disruption whilst still improving the multiple pot holes in the area.
North Yorkshire County Council has axed 90 bus services in the last financial year, more than any other council in the country. Many communities in Ripon have now been left with a scarce service of public transport or, in some cases, none at all. Recently, Ripon’s Dales & District service was withdrawn after their subsidies were cut and calls were made to secure a replacement for elderly residents who depended on it. The introduction of Shaun’s Minibus and Coach Hire, also running without a subsidy, has provided temporary relief but the new MP will face a tough task protecting these vital links for communities in the future. Residents will expect the MP to do this, despite the expectation of continued cuts by the county council as transport is not a protected government department like health and education.
What the politicians say:
Harrogate and Knaresborough
Andrew Jones -
“We have seen a big improvement in the last five years so the key thing now is to build upon this progress. In real terms this means better rolling stock and better frequency. We know it’s on its way, we’ve got the final funding and we’re now in pole position. In terms of buses, I think it’s about dealing with operators so we can work with communities and bus companies to show where services are needed. Roadworks must be better separated and there needs to be better collaboration so avoid having them all at once because it’s an imposition on the community.”
David Simister - UKIP
“The rail line needs to be upgraded at some stage but that still could be four years off. We also need to look at the infrastructure to improve the road for those in cars but also for those on buses. We have to ensure we have a joined up transport policy where people who want to take buses and trains are able to do so affordable. We need to question the materials contractors are using in terms of filling in pot holes. How many times has a road been repaired and they have to return to it because they fail in a matter of weeks.”
Shan Oakes - Green
“We need to put our backs into this and instead of just taking about it. I want to get us to excellent public transport services and lots of options but we’re not going to get that through ideological competition between services. We can only get to that if we give the power back to local authorities which has been taken away from them, to coordinate, to plan and to consult to prepare excellent services. We need to reduce cars on our road and there’s obviously a need to improve walking and cycling routes and another option we have is car sharing.”
Jan Williams - Labour
“Labour will act straight away to give transport powers back to the local authority with the requirement that they work with the government to integrate county and country network. Labour will empower the council to control the budget for road improvement and direct bus services and will cap and simplify rail fare. If roadworks can be done in the evening, into the night, even if we pay workers three times more it would be money well spent. They should be staggered and should be done by officers with the right level of expertise to get the job done first time.”
Helen Flynn - Lib Dems
“Public transport in Harrogate can be improved in three broad ways: increasing utility cycling; improving bus networks; and improving the rail line. However, getting these solutions has seemed elusive. It needn’t be. With the right political will at the local level, safe separation of bikes from cars can be achieved. Yes, it costs money. But over time, the reduction in air pollution, the healthier lifestyles and the financial savings to families through not owning a second car, can be significant. At the national level we need to get changes to bus legislation and ensure guaranteed funding for rail electrification.”
Ripon and Skipton
Julian Smith -
“Buses are a vital link for communities across Ripon and Nidderdale. That’s why I worked so hard to win £1million in investment for DITA And that’s why I have worked so hard to represent communities whose services have been altered by the County Council. My message to council leaders has been to urge them to listen more closely to what services communities want. The biggest roads issue facing my constituency and North Yorkshire generally is potholes. With 6000 miles of road in the county more needs to be done and I will ensure we win further funds to address this.”
Andy Brown - Green
“ I would like to see the reopening of the railway line in Ripon. If there’s going to be a Northern Powerhouse Rail Network then Ripon needs to be connected to it. some of the bus services to smaller rural communities need subsidising because some are infrequent because on many occasions they can’t be relied upon. There are a few out of town shopping developments which only increase traffic flow, I would like to see the traffic situation strengthened by bringing more commercial development into the town centre. The council can only do that if they have proper planning controls.”
Malcolm Birks - Labour
“We want to encourage visitors and local people into Skipton and Ripon without bringing the town centres to a standstill through traffic congestion. Improvements in public transport are crucial to achieve this. Under this Tory/Lib Dem government, 90 bus services have been cut across North Yorkshire, forcing more people into their cars. Making roads safer for cyclists would benefit local people and alleviate the traffic problems. We also need to look at better management of congestion arising out of the school run. In addition, new developments need to be carefully planned and only located where they will not make existing congestion problems worse”
Jacquie Bell - Lib Dem
“The issue is around encouraging people to use public transport. The difficulty in the Ripon area is buses because companies just want to do routes that are commercially viable. For routes where it might be just a few people in rural areas is to develop ideas of community dominated transport. Traffic is linked to improving public transport. On busy market days, we need to develop safe parking and safe routes so they’re not coming into conflict with each other. When you have got a commercial centre of town they do tend to clog up because the narrow streets are not designed for it.”
Alan Henderson - UKIP
“There needs to be more public transport. There’s an awful lot of people using the buses in the constituency but the budget has been cut for these. Rather than HS2 and paying large sums of money, I would rather see the money spent locally in our infrastructure because I think improving it is achievable. With traffic, I think the issue is in terms of volumes of cars on the road. What we need to do is look at different ways of staggering traffic rather than everybody leaving at the same time, so a rise in flexible working time arrangement.”