Letter: Why have 1985 Stray Act when it’s not fit for purpose?

editorial image

I read with great interest the “Special Report” by Graham Chalmers on The Stray and its fast growing commercial leisure use in recent years.

Equally interesting were the comments made by our Council Leader Richard Cooper about “the people of Harrogate being lucky to have a wonderful area in the heart of the town for a picnic and the odd bit of outdoor sport” and the Stray Defence Association Chairperson Mrs Judith d’Arcy Thompson saying “All these activities must be within the strict terms of the Stray Act”.

Well of course they are both absolutely right on those two points.

However, we do seem to have a serious problem here that both the above parties ignore on a daily basis. The Stray Act 1985 is an act of Parliament put in place to protect and preserve the Stray. The Stray is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and is under the strict Stewardship of Harrogate Borough Council.

This Act of Parliament is the law and as such HBC have a legal obligation to not only maintain the land and trees of the Stray but to enforce every aspect of the Act. They do not do this. Not only have decided to turn a blind eye to virtually every day to day requirement of the Act but when asked by me to enforce at least some of the basic rules they admit they “cannot afford to spend time, money or man hours on enforcing the Act”.

Worse still they admit “they have not got the power to enforce the Act”. A simple example of this is I reported my concerns about cars mounting the grass verges of the Stray on Skipton Road, Knaresborough Road and Oatlands Drive as they have destroyed the grass and created large impacted potholes. I was told by HBC that “they cannot do anything about it unless they infringe double yellow lines on the roads”.

I reported and photographed a car actually parked on the Stray whilst its occupants had a picnic and played golf (both in contravention of the Act). Again the response was “there is nothing we can do”. What is stopping every car user parking for free on the Stray every day?

Every day I see ponies and horses on the Stray, drones being flown, cyclists on footpaths, cars parked on verges, golf and cricket being played, barbecues being used and other things the council and police choose to ignore. In most cases I personally have no issue with these events as I do not with the council backed commercial events.

People need to have fun and the Stray is a good place for fun. My point is why have the Stray Act 1985 in place at all if it is not fit for purpose? For the greater part the Act is not enforced by the legal stewards - Harrogate Borough

Council or its abuse challenged by the so called “Common Conscience” SDA. Whilst on the topic of SDA challenging the HBC. They tried hard to stop cycling being permitted on the Stray in 2011 and lost. The council went ahead and laid down new and very expensive cycleways across the Stray. Great, most people except the SDA were happy.

Wrong, the cyclists to the greater part just carried on cycling wherever they pleased and as they had done for years on the Stray, just in greater numbers. What did HBC do about it - nothing. What did the SDA do about it - nothing.

Unless the Stray Act 1985 is strictly enforced by the council and monitored by a truly democratic and representative charitable public organisation then I strongly suggest we call for two actions to be taken:

A reform of the Stray Act 1985 to reflect the true needs of the town and its “common” people. At the same time ensuring that all its damaged verges, flooded areas and abuses are dealt with constantly but fairly.

Alternatively demand a Judicial Review of HBC for not carrying out its duties to the Crown, the Duchy or its residents as they should have been doing under the Stray Act 1985.

I want the Stray to become a place of fun and interest for everyone. I want to encourage its biodiversity. I do not want to sit back and let the HBC neglect it whilst it is being commercially exploited. Protect it first, then use it properly.

It is there for all of us, not just business and the council. The council are experts at turning a blind eye to rules until it suits them not to - look at the situation the whole town is in now with to “recycle or not to recycle” cardboard.
I am sorry but the “Common Conscience” as far as the Stray is concerned does not belong to Mrs d’Arcy Thompson and the antiquated SDA, it belongs to us all.

Andrew Hart

Burns Way, Harrogate