Harrogate Borough councillors debated the issue of Harrogate becoming a more cycle-friendly town after the authority’s Lib Dems called for a £50,000 feasibility study on how to make Harrogate a cycling town, though Conservative politicians say enough is already being done.
High Harrogate Coun Richard Cooper (Con) told the council that spending money on a feasibility study would take funds away from vital projects promoting cycling in the district.
He said: “If we spend thousands on reports we cannot afford projects like resurfacing the Beryl Burton Cycleway,” after Nidd Valley Coun Helen Flynn (Lib Dem) outlined her vision for Harrogate as a cycle town at a council meeting last Wednesday (March 5).
She told the council: “I have been working with the Sustrans ofﬁce in Leeds to see how we can progress plans for making Harrogate into a cycle town and link it to Knaresborough.
“Government has been making funding available through different schemes for cycling initiatives for some time. But those authorities without a full feasibility plan for projects are always left at the bottom of the queue when it comes to funding allocation.
“If we are serious about wanting to become a proper cycle town, then we have to put our money where our mouth is and invest in a feasibility plan. It’s the vital ﬁrst step.”
However Conservative councillors have said that Harrogate ‘is not stuck without a feasibility study’ and a lot has already been done to improve the town for cyclists.
Coun Cooper said: “I am not sure what to make of Coun Flynn’s comments bearing in mind the enormous amount of investment we have seen in cycling over the last few years.
“Just look at what has been delivered – the Nidderdale Greenway opened after years of campaigning, the Beryl Burton Cycleway from Starbeck to Knaresborough resurfaced, a new Showground Greenway being constructed and new cycle storage facilities all around the town centre.
Coun Cooper added: “Since 2002 we have spent around £3.8m on cycling including formulating a Harrogate and Knaresborough Cycle Plan.
“We have announced that next year the Nidderdale Greenway will be extended to Hampsthwaite and the county council has earmarked over £250,000 of spending on cycling initiatives in Harrogate and Knaresborough.
“We are spending £4m repairing roads surfaces in the preparations for the Tour de France. And let’s not forget that we won the Tour de France Grand Départ for Harrogate and Knaresborough.”
In December 2013 Harrogate Borough Council elected Coun John Ennis (Con, Low Harrogate) as Cycling Champion and he is organising a forum to hear the view of Harrogate cyclists.
He said: “We do need to get a good overview of what we have already got, there is a lot that has already been done. Personally I don’t think we are stuck without having a strategy.
“We are going to start a cycling forum to gather the views of cyclists in the district. The first meeting is planned for the next couple of months. But if it does turn out we need a feasibility that is something we will have to look at.
“Harrogate does not immediately strike people as a cycling town but we do not have the student population like in York or other places, so that could be one reason why there are less cyclists on the road.”
He added: “The Tour de France has led to a groundswell of support.
“I would say let’s listen to the cyclists themselves first, rather than the politicians.”
What the cyclists think
Dave Prince of the Cycle Harrogate group, which successfully campaigned North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) to resurface the entire length on the Beryl Burton cycleway last year, says there is still much to be done to make Harrogate a cycle town.
He said: “Harrogate as a bike town would be somewhere my eight-year-old son could ride around on his bike with me and the rest of the family. There are places where this can happen currently but after you have ridden to Ripley and down the Beryl Burton there aren’t that many others.
“Currently if he wants to ride on any of Harrogate’s main roads his dad would just laugh at him and tell him to keep watching the telly.”
Cycling campaigner Malcolm Margolis said: “It is a great aim to make Harrogate a cycling town and a survey makes funding more accessible.”
The chair of Wheel Easy Harrogate, Gia Margolis said the group would welcome the concept of a feasibility study as it would make grants more easily accessible.
She said: “There is the opportunity in Harrogate and off-road cycling in Harrogate has benefited from funding in the last three years which has led to cycle improvements but those improvements have only on off-road routes, the Stray, the Nidderdale Greenway.
“These are all significant and it has made it easier for people who haven’t got confidence or families to have a go safely but the next stage is to develop the cycle network in and around town to make it safe for people to consider cycling into town, at the moment that is somewhat limited.”
She added: “Research shows if you have off the shelf projects ready to go then you are much more likely to get money.
“Spending £50,000 on infrastructure projects wouldn’t get very much, but if it was spent on a survey would mean it is more likely that funding would be secured.”
Regional director at Sustrans Yorkshire, David Hall confirmed that a feasibility survey would make it easier for Harrogate council to get access to grants.
He said: “Grants become very much easier to access when it can be seen that we have considered how the grant would be spent and its impact. Grant givers want to know what will happen and its importance. A survey is critical, everything starts with an assessment of what needs doing and if there is a lot of public support.”
He added: “What is the cost of doing nothing and living with congestion? What is the cost of pollution? What is the cost of car dependency?”
Coun Flynn said that investing in making Harrogate friendly town could ease congestion problems.
She said: “I can really see the case for making Harrogate into a proper cycle town. Congestion is an issue in Harrogate and Knaresborough and unlikely to improve, especially with the new plans for housing around Harrogate & Knaresborough.”
“Currently, around 70 per cent of traffic is local, so it is feasible to shift some of this onto bikes.
“The healthier lifestyle this would create and the reduction to CO2 emissions can only be of beneﬁt to local people. But we must be strategic and plan how we can become a cycle town now.”
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