3 February 2015

Harrogate Futures Forum – A Green Vision for Harrogate & Knaresborough

After three successful meetings regarding the NHS, immigration and TTIP, this forum, organised by Harrogate & District Green Party, focussed on local issues, and what the general public can expect from a Green MP, and committed team of councillors, throughout the district post May 7th.

The main topics discussed were local transport, the rejuvenation of Knaresborough Market Place in order to promote tourism in the area, the housing crisis and local library services.

Harrogate & District Green Party are committed to the promotion of reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly public transport. It was understood that public transport should be promoted as the easiest way to travel across the district, in order for us to be successful in our aim to make the transition between a car centred transport model, and an environmentally friendly public-centred model. The audience understood the idea that at the moment, it is in fact cheaper and easier to travel by car hence expensive, unreliable travel by rail or bus is not attractive. We need to push for better public transport in order to lower carbon emissions and improve air quality levels – something of vital importance at a local level with Bond End and Skipton Road in particular being particularly toxic. It is farcical that Ripon city is not rail linked both in the interest of local business/community links but equally for tourism purposes too. Shan Oakes, speaking from experience, raised the issue of the incompetent practice of the bus companies within the district – namely the unwilling co operation on their part to accept each other’s tickets. Pointing the finger firmly at NYCC and their laissez-faire attitude (proclaiming that everyone in North Yorkshire has a car anyway so bus services are less important), Ms Oakes emphasised the Green vision to transform this fool-hardy ethos. We envision electrified rail, connecting towns/villages/cities across the district, promoting local business instead of pushing more and more to the capital – we must develop local economies/communities closer to home (readdressing the imbalance between the North and South of the country) and of course, better public transport links are vital to this aim – what chance does a business have of growing in Harrogate/Knaresborough/Ripon if transport links are so poor? Harrogate and District Green Party, can too confirm that nationally the Green Party will renationalise the railways and reduce rail fares by 10% should they take power in May.

In terms of local housing, the Green Party recognises the real need to undergo a radical and major investment in social and affordable housing. In recent times, speculation on the housing market by those with money, has led to a real crisis for not just first-time-buyers, but those in difficult financial circumstances. In Harrogate and District, this crisis too is well felt. It was raised from the floor that big property developers are part of the problem as they can afford to have two/three empty properties from a large portfolio, holding out for the biggest profit they can make. As thousands search for property, thousands of homes lie empty – this has to stop. Coupled with often unethical practice from landlords, the lack of investment in social housing since the right to buy years has led to a deepening crisis both nationally and in the district. Shan Oakes emphasised the need to invest in brown field housing sites (where transport links are accessible – not sprawling further and further into the country where the only option for homeowners is to take the car – as would be the case in the proposed Flaxby site) but also to ensure that we are being imaginative in our proposals of new sites. Ms Oakes raised the idea of building on the current Yorkshire Showground area (better public transport links) and moving the Showground to the proposed Flaxby site as well as reiterating the Green view that any development should be properly resourced and serviced with the necessary infrastructure. This should include grocery and post office, community facilities, green spaces and excellent public transport access, mainly affordable housing incorporating, renewable energy, rain/grey water harvesting for example. Finally the housing quotas themselves were discussed. The audience learned of how the current council’s hands are tied with unrealistic housing quotas to meet.  Scepticism surrounding these quotas was discussed by the Green candidate who assessed that government ideology, and that of all the ‘grey’ parties, is based on the outdated neoliberal economic model.  Ministers are in bed with the construction industry so how can we trust the grey parties’ policy decisions?

Attention turned to local library services. It was unanimous that we should be supporting local library services and that libraries are vital community services; Shan Oakes said “The current proposals stem from demands of the coalition on councils to make them pay for excesses of the finance sector. The most vulnerable are being forced to make sacrifices because this government refuses to tax fairly and spend wisely. Libraries fight loneliness: a warm hub with the internet, other people, and professional staff. The State should give this as much priority as defence of the realm”. Concerns were raised particularly about Starbeck library – where are all the volunteers to run this library going to come from? The Green Party’s anti-austerity stance would continue to support such services in the community, and Green councillors would not support any budget cutting local services in this way.

Proposals for future development in Harrogate and District were also put forward. Local business owners discussed ideas surrounding the rehabilitation of Knaresborough market square. This would include the paving over of parking spaces within the market square itself and a total ban of cars in the area (in the interests of safety and air quality), paving the way for a European style piazza with performance area/bandstand. Better signage would direct people to York Place car park and a Boris-Bikes-esque scheme, with investment in cycle-ways between Harrogate/Knarebsorough/Ripon and surrounding villages/countryside.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included the lack of mobile/internet signal in large areas of Harrogate and Knaresborough, vital of course to developing business in the area. This is something the local Green Party too will be campaigning on (and would pursue in office).