2nd March 2021
The representatives of three Harrogate business groups are always overwhelmingly negative about proposals to reduce car use in our town, and improve access by sustainable transport. An example is the response of the groups - Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, Harrogate BID, and Independent Harrogate - to Transforming Cities plans.
Actually, that statement is slightly less negative than many of their others, but they are still arguing for active travel to be pushed to the margins, and they remain focused on cars, cars, cars.
As a small concession to the problems of climate and pollution, they seek to present hybrid and electric cars as the solution to mobility in Harrogate.
While electric cars are preferable to fossil-fuelled machines, they are not a silver bullet.
An analysis by Friends of the Earth says that even a very rapid switch to electric cars will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough. To limit global heating to 1.5C, car mileage in the UK will have to be reduced by between 20% and 60% by 2030. That is a big reduction in a short space of time.
Nationally, transport is the biggest source of emissions, at 27%. In Harrogate District, there is an even bigger challenge: transport accounts for 49% of greenhouse gas emissions.
So even if it were desirable, we cannot all switch to electric cars and carry on the same way as before.
Harrogate's business groups have not grasped that.
Although the nations of the world have committed to the idea of limiting global heating to 1.5C, they have not put in place policies which will achieve that goal. Current planned measures will keep emissions about the same by 2030, but we need to halve them according to the UN Secretary General.
What are the consequences of runaway climate change? We risk violent weather swings, and a drastic effect on crops and ocean life says Andrew Meijers of the British Antarctic Survey.
The Gulf Stream, or Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), keeps our part of northern Europe warmer than it would otherwise be. It's strength has reduced by 15% since 1871, due to human warming of the climate. If we keep emitting greenhouse gases, it may halve in strength by 2100, or collapse suddenly.
That would mean colder weather for the UK, reduced summer rainfall and crop productivity, and a greater chance of extreme weather. This would be very bad for ecosystems and wildlife.
I would like to see a better-informed and more grown-up approach from Harrogate's business groups.
Their thinking doesn't seem to go much beyond, 'most people arrive in town by car; if we make any changes to the benefit of sustainable travel, no one will ever come to Harrogate again.'
It might be even worse than that. The logic could be: 'I personally have spent a lot of money/am spending a lot of money each month on a fancy car; I don't want any restrictions on where and when I can drive it.'
Anyone who makes the effort to read up on global heating and decarbonisation will quickly understand that the 'cars, cars, cars' status quo is not sustainable. It is also not desirable.
Cars are useful to travel longer distances, but they do not improve places. Would you like to shop or eat out on the hard shoulder of the M1? No, because fast-moving cars introduce noise, danger and pollution. Is Waterside, Knaresborough, a nice place to spend time? Yes, because it's a street that's primarily for people, not cars.
The more Harrogate town centre is like Waterside, and the less it is like the M1, the more attractive it will be.
It's not only people who arrive in the town centre by pickup truck who spend money. Other people do too - more, in fact.
Making our town centre more pleasant will also help it to thrive commercially.
We have to change, and local businesses should embrace the changes because ultimately they will benefit from them.