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NYCC congestion consultation

15th April 2019

Harrogate relief road
Old Bilton now, and what it could look like if turned into a 'relief road'

Don Mackenzie is the North Yorkshire County Councillor desperate to drive a road carrying 1,000 cars an hour through the Old Bilton, ruining the Nidderdale Greenway and the Nidd Gorge. Speaking about the congestion consultation that begins today, Councillor Mackenzie told Stray FM: 'At this stage, North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is totally neutral on this matter.'

Perhaps Mackenzie hadn't seen NYCC's consultation page when he said that. It comes across as a blatant piece of propaganda - a desperate effort to inflict an unwanted road (a non-solution to Harrogate's congestion problems) on local people (Package E). It also contains some excellent, forward-thinking proposals in Package B, which stand a chance of making a difference to congestion, and improving quality of life in Harrogate & Knaresborough.

NYCC congestion consultation: six points to pick up

1) A bypass won't solve congestion caused by short, local trips

NYCC admit in the 'background' section that almost half peak trips made by car are very short (less than 1.6 miles). Local trips from or to Harrogate and Knaresborough account for 93% of traffic; only 7% is through traffic. A bypass simply won't help.

Bypasses don't relieve congestion

'Building more roads is in any case senseless. It is often the first reaction from ministers who want to look as though they are doing something...if you think you're going to solve the problem of congestion like that, you're wrong.'

Professor of Transport Policy, University of Delft

2) Traffic is going to decrease and increase, according to NYCC...which is it?

NYCC says (background) that the number of cars on the roads is expected to increase (due to new housing and employment sites). They say that national traffic is expected to increase by 17-50% by 2050, and it will be the same for Harrogate & Knaresborough.

Yet in the section on Package E (Congestion Generator Road), NYCC claim that rush hour traffic would be reduced by a third on the A59 and A661.

Which is it? NYCC is planning for big increases in traffic in the next 3 decades, but are also claiming that this road will reduce traffic. It's incoherent.

There would not be any significant reduction in traffic on the A59 and A661 if this road were built, I suggest. Studies show that over 3 years or more, induced traffic fills all or nearly of the new capacity.

Also, traffic is not a force of nature, it is a product of human choices. This 17-50% increase in traffic isn't a big storm coming our way; it's not something to which we have to passively submit. Simply planning to accommodate demand does not work: the demand is never-ending. That's exactly how we have got in this pickle in the first place.

The choices we take now will determine whether there is ever-increasing traffic in the future. But we can't keep going on like this, it's unsustainable. We are going to trash the climate and damage our children's health with pollution if we keep making the same mistakes.

The truth is that you only reduce traffic with measures to reduce traffic, not by making provision for extra traffic (in one specific location).

3) NYCC claim that their road project balances congestion and environmental impacts

Still under Package E, in the 'relief road corridor' section, NYCC say the route they have identified (right by the Nidd Gorge, ruining the Nidderdale Greenway, Old Bilton, and Bilton Lane), represents 'the best balance between the congestion relief benefits and the environmental and other impacts.'

If environmental impacts were a consideration at all, this scheme would have been dropped already. Their claim that they are considering the environment here does not correlate with the facts. They are planning to trash it, and they must be stopped.

In a rare outbreak of impartiality, though, there is a table containing the truth about the road project under 'potential issues':

  • Air quality and noise impacts in the vicinity of the schemes
  • Redistribution of trips will increase traffic on some existing roads
  • Does not actually reduce overall trips and may even attract some new trips to the network
  • Does not address short, internal trips

And that shows that someone, at least, knows that this road would not work.

What about queues to get out of Leadhall Lane or the Mallinson estate? This not going to help, in fact it will make things worse. What about Otley Road? It will get worse. And on and on.

4) Induced traffic

That brings me on to the extra traffic that new roads generate, and which spills over onto existing roads and junctions, snarling them up. Finally, belatedly, this has been mentioned by NYCC (further information).

NYCC admit that they have made 'no detailed assessment of induced traffic effects'. Nevertheless, they still feel qualified to say that 'a 10% reduction in traffic on a road network could lead to 2% extra induced traffic.' I'm sorry, but that is an example of knowing the conclusion you want to reach, and making up facts to support it.

There are plenty of people who have actually looked into the issue, and they are clear that bypasses do not reduce congestion.

In a slightly different but related development, Highways England spent £300 million on schemes to 'ease congestion' at various bottlenecks, and they have made congestion worse.

5) An alternative to the M62

Also in 'further information', NYCC include a sub-section headed, 'Isn't the relief road just the first part of a plan for a new major road across the Pennines? Isn't that what improved east-west connectivity means? Their answer is 'no. Whilst Transport for the North and Highways England are just about to start a study into the possibility of a major new cross Pennine road this is no way linked to the possible Harrogate Relief Road.'

This is misleading, and NYCC are trying to conflate two different issues in order to confuse people.

Issue 1: I didn't know that Highways England wanted to build another road across the Pennines, and I'm appalled by the idea. I realise that Highways England's job is to focus on roads, but ever more travel by private motor car is not sustainable, and cannot be the solution to the problems of 2019. Can you imagine how many people's houses would have to be knocked down, how much disruption and damage would be caused by a new road across the Pennines?

Issue 2: is the so-called relief road about routing long-distance traffic, including HGVs, through Harrogate Borough? Yes. There is plenty of evidence, not least in the reports of NYCC's transport consultants WSP.

In WSP's study objectives for the road project, they list 'strategic east-west connectivity in order to maximise sustainable economic growth'. They also talk about the A59 as 'a key east-west corridor'. They say '...freight movements on the A59 may increase as east-west connections become increasingly viable through improvements to the A59...[t]he A59 acts as a key freight route across North Yorkshire linking to the areas east and west of Harrogate.'

I don't understand how a responsible council could justify putting such a misleading statement into an official consultation.

6) Good measures in Package B

There is some good stuff in the consultation, under Package B. There could be a traffic management zone, of the sort that has seen traffic in Durham reduce by 85%. A car club might be set up.

Package B includes the 'core measures'. Among those core measures is 'prioritising pedestrians and cyclists in the centre of Harrogate'. (This is swiftly followed by another, incompatible, suggestion that they will review traffic lights and crossings to see if they can 'reduce the time vehicles wait at traffic lights'; cars are already given excessive priority, and people made to wait far too long to cross roads).

Another very positive suggestion is 20mph speed limits within Harrogate & Knaresborough 'to improve safety and create a better environment for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as businesses and visitors.' However, they are no good if they are not enforced.

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