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The origins of the Harrogate Civic Society


Michael Laycock

You may wonder why southbound traffic passes through Harrogate by such a tortuous route, involving as it does five nearly right angled turns from Ripon Road to Leeds Road. What we have now is a remnant of a much more ambitious project proposed more than fifty years ago.

At least one planned dual carriageway through Harrogate having been abandoned because of public opposition, West Riding County Council and Harrogate Borough Council officials devised a five-phased Traffic Management Scheme to achieve their objective in stages.

Phase One is what you see today as southbound traffic comes up Station Parade. Subsequent phases would have seen northbound traffic sent down Montpellier Hill and by the Pump Room and southbound traffic routed by Bower Road and East Parade, allowing pedestrianisation of parts of Station Parade and Parliament Street. Finally, Phase Five would have seen a dual carriageway leaving Ripon Road north of the Majestic before passing through Strawberry Dale and East Parade to join York Place. Both York Place and Leeds Road would have become dual carriageways.

Plans were displayed in Harrogate Public Library. Nobody knows how many people came to see them as J Neville Knox, our wily Town Clerk, took care not to provide a visitors book. Harrogate Junior Chamber of Commerce wrote a critical report that was featured in the Harrogate Advertiser but public reaction was slight.

When, in 1970, Phase One was actually introduced, supposedly as a six month trial, there was a public outcry. A petition organized by Walter Davey, William Woods and one other, collected more than ten thousand signatures but was rejected by Harrogate Council.

Walter Davey invited about a dozen of us to meet at his studio in James Street. We decided to form a group, to be called the Harrogate Society, to continue our campaign. We continued to meet, prepared press statements and leaflets, discussed replies to Councillors' comments and drafted a constitution, which we presented to an Inaugural Meeting at the Crown Hotel in 1971. Our objects were to protect the special character and environment of Harrogate. This seemed more positive than only opposing a traffic scheme, which was just the most obvious of many threats. Giving our Society a more enduring object helped to keep it in being to meet future challenges.

I believe that, if only one tenth of those who signed that petition had protested before Councillors made up their minds, Phase One would never have been implemented. Unfortunately, they could not be persuaded to reverse what they had done but we had, at least, frightened them off any further steps.

Now we are ready to take on challenges in good time. We have made detailed comments on major new developments. Malcolm Neesam has succeeded in getting Harrogate's schedule of listed buildings revised and major Conservation Areas designated. Mrs. Davey studied Planning Application lists and alerted neighbours whose properties were affected and her labours have been taken forward, particularly by Henry Pankhurst in more recent times.

But, as the Society reaches its 50th birthday, let us raise a glass and give thanks for the early pioneers!

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