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Harrogate relief road

Harrogate relief road
Bilton Lane now, and how it could look if made into a relief road

(Jump to Harrogate relief road news)

A so-called Harrogate relief road is being promoted by North Yorkshire County Council's Business & Environmental Services Executive ('the Executive'). The Executive includes Councillors Don Mackenzie and Andrew Lee, and Corporate Director David Bowe.

At an Area Committee meeting on Thursday 7th December 2017, councillors voted 14-2 against continuing with the road proposal, but the Executive disregarded the vote, and decided to push ahead with it.

An Area Committee meeting on Thursday 15th March 2018 received an update, and a petition from the Nidd Gorge Community Action Group. Harrogate BC council leader Richard Cooper said that the Executive had paid no attention to the Area Committee and its December 2017 vote. 'For the first time in 19 years as an elected councillor, I feel like I have been ignored, and that's not a healthy place to be.'

Most of Harrogate's traffic is short, local journeys. In fact, 93% of traffic in Harrogate is from journeys that begin or end in Harrogate, or are entirely within Harrogate; only 7% is through traffic.

This helps explain why the name 'bypass' has not been chosen for the unwanted road. A bypass option to the north of Harrogate that only keeps non-local traffic out of the town would have little effect.

Since congestion is caused by local traffic making short, local journeys in Harrogate, can a new road possibly resolve the problem? No. The new road will fill up with traffic, and extra traffic will cause even worse jams on other roads and junctions in Harrogate. Instead of 'relief road', this project should be called the 'congestion generator road'. Proponents of the road have never addressed this reality. It seems their thinking is (with credit to Yes Minister) 'something must be done; this is something; therefore it must be done'.

What is needed is a more intelligent approach. The only strategy which can be successful in the long-run is to reduce the volume of traffic. That means giving people other options that are clearly safe, convenient and attractive.

End of route sign, Harrogate
End of route sign in Harrogate. Unless this happens to be the end of your journey, it's not helpful

The collection of cycle routes we have now is an incomplete network of bodge-jobs; even some of the most recent 'infrastructure' is built to such poor design standards that it is ignored by people on bikes. They need radical improvement, so people of all ages can get around by bike if they so choose. Let's have more electric buses, and prioritise walking - don't make people watch as twenty or thirty cars go past, before lights at a pedestrian crossing change.

In an attempt to make it look as though they are doing something about congestion, the Executive are proposing to damage or destroy some of the best-loved places in Harrogate, to make way for their road. It must not happen.

There are many reasons why the so-called Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea, and some of them are set out below.

'Public engagement' launched

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) are launching a 'public engagement' on congestion in Harrogate & Knaresborough. It runs for 12 weeks, from 15th April to 8th July 2019, and includes a questionnaire and five public exhibitions.

As I understand, people will be asked for their views on Package B, sustainable transport options (to be welcomed), and Package E, the so-called relief road.

Nidd Gorge Community Action have a HALT (Harrogate & Knaresborough Alliance for Less Traffic) leaflet setting out the issues, which is being delivered to local residents.

The so-called relief road shouldn't be on the table, having been rejected by Harrogate area councillors on several occasions. It wouldn't relieve congestion, but would increase traffic in the Borough, and create ever more crawling queues on existing roads and junctions. It would degrade the precious Nidd Gorge, damaging a hugely popular place of recreation and home for wildlife.

The road would lead to more pollution from traffic. While London is restricting polluting traffic, and prioritising clean air for people to breathe, NYCC's big idea is more traffic and more pollution. As David Shukman's article makes clear, that air pollution has even more damaging effects than previously thought. It makes asthma worse, triggering attacks, reduces lung capacity in children as they develop, contributes to emphysema and bronchitis and lung cancer, blocks arteries, increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, and heart attacks, may cause dementia, reduces cognitive performance and may trigger psychotic episodes in teenagers, and may explain why babies in polluted areas are born prematurely.

Is that what we want for the people, and especially the children, of Harrogate?

Any claim by NYCC that inducing more polluting traffic would reduce air pollution is ridiculous and patently wrong. Whatever the clever arguments to prove that black is white, nobody should be taken in by them.

Climate change is a crisis which is upon us now. It is happening faster than predicted, and the effects are more severe. In that context, building another road is exactly the wrong thing to be doing. It is an irresponsible proposal by 'the Executive'.

I hope and believe that NYCC will get a clear and unequivocal message that their congestion-generator road is not wanted. It's no good assuming that everyone else will tell them; we all have to do the most we can to make sure that this appalling project is consigned to the dustbin.

Harrogate relief road: why it's a terrible idea 1 - it won't relieve congestion

Sparrow, Bilton Lane
A sparrow sings on Bilton Lane

Some people believe that motor traffic is like rainwater, and the roads are drains for it. It has to go somewhere, and if you block one route, it will flow along another. But as Andrew Gilligan has explained, that isn't what happens in practice, because 'traffic isn't a force of nature. It's a product of human choices...'

The idea that you can reduce congestion in a crowded town centre by building a new road is false. It has been shown that new roads cause increased traffic, and exacerbate congestion problems. A Harrogate relief road would not relieve congestion. It would not work.

This is one reason why a Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea.

Harrogate relief road: why it's a terrible idea 2 - destroying nature

Roe deer, Bilton Lane
Roe deer, Bilton Lane

Old Bilton is a lovely place. It's on Bilton Lane, which is close to traffic-free. A triangle of land here includes Bilton Fields, Bilton Beck, and the Nidd Gorge. The Nidderdale Greenway walking and cycling route crosses Bilton Lane on its way north to Ripley.

The Nidderdale Greenway and Bilton Lane are used for walking and cycling. Local people exercise their dogs in the fields here. It's a tranquil haven for wildlife right on the doorstep of Harrogate.

It may be that in the past, development happened without much thought to wildlife. That's probably why the UK has become one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Now, there is a keen sense of what we've lost already, and the present and future threats facing our native wild creatures. As a result, we can no longer plough ahead with damaging projects, without any regard to our natural heritage.

Road-building is a very effective way to divide and degrade wildlife sites. When we damage natural environments, we're ruining them for the animals and birds that live in them, but for ourselves too. If this road project were to happen in Bilton, it would be a tragedy, not only for the local wildlife, but for the local people too.

This is a second reason why a Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea.

Harrogate relief road: why it's a terrible idea 3 - the way we travel is killing us

Public Health England road transport chart
Chart from Public Health England report on road transport and active travel

Chris Boardman, Walking and Cycling Commissioner in Manchester, produced a report called Made to Move, with a chapter entitled, 'The Way we Travel is Killing us'. In it, he notes that there are 40,000 premature deaths from air pollution every year in the UK. Children are suffering with asthma and other conditions, because of pollution from vehicles; fast-moving traffic deters people from active travel, and obesity is increasing as a result. Physical inactivity costs the NHS in Manchester alone £500,000 per week.

Expanding and increasing travel by private motor vehicles is exactly the opposite of what the Executive should be doing, for public health reasons.

This is a third reason why the Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea.

Harrogate relief road: why it's a terrible idea 4 - climate change

Snow-less ski piste, Val Thorens
Snow-less ski piste, Val Thorens

Climate change was the top story on the BBC website on 6th February 2019. We're heading for the warmest decade ever, according to the Met Office.

Nobody should be in any doubt that we're destroying the habitable climate in which civilisation developed, and upon which our plants and animals depend - as we do, too.

We must tread lightly from now on, including travelling in the most sustainable ways possible. Building a new road (through one of the most treasured areas in Harrogate) is absolutely incompatible with a responsible reaction to climate change.

This is a fourth reason why the Harrogate relief road (or congestion generator road) is a terrible idea.

Harrogate relief road: letter to the Yorkshire Post

The Yorkshire Post published a well-argued letter about the idea of a Harrogate relief road in December 2017, which I think is worth reproducing here.

'Over many many months, I have been concerned with the planning and development of a 'relief road' for Harrogate.

The much publicised options - solutions provided by North Yorkshire County Council - lack the courage, imagination and social responsibility one would expect of elected officials.

We do not need another road!

We need a concerted, thoughtful, humane plan to improve the local infrastructure. Cycle paths, child-friendly/secure school routes, reduced speed limits, restricted HGV deliveries during peak times.

We need to think outside the box.

Of the five options suggested, select 'package B' please. Physically and fiscally it is the most logical, responsible solution. A solution which acknowledges the pressures on our roads whilst providing answers that respect the landscape and the health and well-being of the people living, working and playing in Harrogate.'

Harrogate relief road: petition

Nidd Gorge
Nidd Gorge

Nidd Gorge Community Action is involved in saving the Nidd Gorge and the Nidderdale Greenway, and is asking the people of Harrogate and Knaresborough to get involved and help fight against the damaging road project.

The group has a petition to save Nidd Gorge and the Nidderdale Greenway, with over 3,000 signatures at the time of writing (July 2018).

Harrogate relief road: Woodland Trust

Little owl, Bilton Lane
Little owl, Bilton Lane, June 2018

In January 2018, Keith Wilkinson MBE wrote an article about the Nidd Gorge for the Woodland Trust, which owns part of the Nidd Gorge.

Mr Wilkinson explains how local residents have worked since 1983 to conserve the Green Belt between Harrogate and the Nidd Gorge, in partnership with Harrogate BC, the Woodland Trust, and the former Countryside Commission. Their hard work means that there is now a valuable mosaic of habitats and wildlife corridors. 43,500 broadleaf trees have been planted in Bilton Fields.

Wildlife in and around the Gorge includes otters, kingfishers, herons, eighteen species of fish, roe deer, red kites, buzzards, owls, kestrels, and much more.

It would be a tragedy if 35 years of dedicated work to create something wonderful were to be bulldozed away in a few weeks.

The two routes still being considered by NYCC sever public rights of way and wildlife corridors, open the Green Belt to development, and bisect farmland leaving it unviable for agriculture.

If Natural England can be persuaded to give the Nidd Gorge Site of Special Scientific Interest status, that could help protect it.

To help with an environmental report, you can send your wildlife sightings to niddgorge@gmail.com.

Harrogate relief road: WSP reports

What a major road across the Nidd Gorge may look like
What a major road across the Nidd Gorge may look like

NYCC's transport consultants WSP have produced two reports relevant to the so-called relief road: a Stage 1 Report, and an Addendum Report.

The reports are long, and not everyone will want to read them. I have highlighted the main points - the better sections of the reports, and the occasions where WSP's case for the so-called relief road doesn't stand up or is based on flawed assumptions. The most critical of these flaws is WSP's failure to address induced demand, which would mean more traffic and exacerbated congestion were the road ever to be built.

Read about WSP's reports on the so-called Harrogate relief road.

Harrogate relief road: news

Newport relief road scrapped on cost and environmental grounds

4th June 2019

The tide is finally turning against a 'sod the environment and do it anyway' approach to road building.

Plans for an M4 relief road at Newport have been scrapped, reports the BBC. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford decided against the new road on cost and environmental grounds. 'In my opinion, the project's adverse impacts on the environment...outweigh its advantages,' said Drakeford.

The road would have ruined the Gwent Levels; and as recently as April, the Welsh government declared a climate emergency.

NYCC insist on relief road consultation

1st February 2019

A consultation on options for reducing congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough is to include the so-called relief road, Stray FM reports. The consultation is likely to begin in late February 2019 and run for 10 weeks.

Councillor Don Mackenzie is quoted as saying that congestion is bad for business and air pollution. In reality, nobody is in favour of congestion and pollution. The problem is that the Councillor's proposed solution is not a solution to congestion. Building another road will induce more traffic, and exacerbate congestion and air pollution. That point is never answered by proponents of the road, presumably because it is unanswerable. They never address the point, and hope that nobody will notice.

Councillor Mackenzie appears to be the driving force behind this unwanted road project. His enthusiasm for generating more traffic in this way sits uncomfortably with his role as North Yorkshire County Council's Walking and Cycling Champion.

London had Andrew Gilligan. Manchester has Chris Boardman. In North Yorkshire, I would like to see a Walking and Cycling Champion who is committed to walking and cycling. Instead, we've got a Councillor whose main enthusiasm is for a big new road project dedicated to the motor car - despite the fact that it will have an extremely serious negative impact on Harrogate's best walking and cycling route, the Nidderdale Greenway.

In the 1970s, people thought that we should be building as much capacity as required for the motor car, and it would improve our quality of life. Gradually, it has become apparent that whatever road capacity you build, it will fill up with cars - the demand is insatiable. The result is traffic jams and air pollution. Meanwhile, the places where we live and work are dominated motor cars which bring danger and pollution, and spoil our quality of life. It's time to do things differently.

Our county's Walking and Cycling Champion is a Councillor who is still clinging to the discredited 'everything must make way for the motor car' idea of the 1970s. I think it is terrific that NYCC has a Walking and Cycling Champion, but it is incredibly disappointing that the person who currently fulfils the role is wedded to the idea of giving over ever more space to motorised transport. North Yorkshire deserves better.

Meanwhile, the Harrogate Advertiser quotes Harrogate BC leader Richard Cooper as saying that the idea of building a relief road through the Nidd Gorge is 'surreal' and a non-starter. He called it a sideshow, and said funding would never be available. Once it is dismissed, we can 'get on with the serious business of sustainable transport measures.'

Councillors reject relief road plan again

8th November 2018

At a North Yorkshire County Council/Harrogate & Knaresborough Area Committee meeting today at the Cairn Hotel, councillors rejected the relief road plan again.

Although not allowed to vote, the councillors made clear their objections to the project, reports the Harrogate Advertiser. The unwanted road could cut through the Nidd Gorge, private houses, and Harrogate Golf Club. 'Can I seriously raise my hand to the people and say I'm voting for that?' asked Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper.

Dave Prince, who attended the meeting, says that Richard Cooper advocated sustainable measures to ease congestion.

Councillors Don Mackenzie and Zoe Metcalfe were two dissenting voices. They want the road proposal to go to public consultation.

Andrew Jones MP against road project

8th November 2018

The MP for Harrogate & Knaresborough, Andrew Jones, is opposed to the relief road project.

He told the Harrogate Advertiser, 'I am strongly against a new relief road as identified in the WSP report, and I want to preserve the Nidd Gorge and I want to preserve the Greenway...It would be incredibly damaging to huge areas of the landscape and the environment.'

'The reason I'm not in favour of the relief road option is that it will be a road which bypasses the town. Figures show only a small proportion of Harrogate and Knaresborough congestion is caused by through traffic. We do not want a relief road weaving between Knaresborough and Harrogate.'

'I am resolute in my opinion that this would cause lasting damage to the beautiful and wonderful Nidd Gorge, as well as impacting on householders and facilities in the area.'

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Cycling UK poll

5th June 2018

Closed road cycling in York

A poll of 2,000 British adults for Cycling UK reveals the top reasons why more people don't cycle. They include sharing the road with large vehicles and close passes. What would encourage more people to ride bikes? Find out about the Cycling UK poll.

Roe deer, Bilton Lane Traffic jam, HarrogateSparrow, Bilton Lane