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Judith Rogerson: We need a dynamic vision for our town centres

July 25, 2019 9:00 AM
By Judith Rogerson

There has been much discussion over recent weeks about whether Harrogate town centre is in decline. In last week's edition of the Harrogate Advertiser Andrew Jones MP rejected the suggestion that our area is going down hill. I feel very lucky to live in Harrogate town centre - it is a wonderful place with much to be positive about.

Judith Betty's

We enjoy some fantastic events in our area of which we should be proud. Harrogate punches above its weight with outstanding the events organised by Harrogate International Festivals and over many years I've had great fun at FEVA in Knaresborough. The weekend that the Tour de France passed through will always be one of my fondest and most memorable experiences.

But we cannot become complacent and need to listen to the concerns of local residents and businesses. Our local towns need to be destinations that local residents and visitors from further afield want to visit all year round.

Last Friday I spent the morning talking with some of Harrogate's independent business owners about their concerns for the future. There was no sniping towards local groups or initiatives, but instead genuine worry about the future of our local high streets. Those that I spoke to are concerned that at present there is no clear plan in place to preserve and build upon what makes Harrogate and neighbouring towns so great.

What is needed is a strategy with input from HBC, NYCC, the BID, businesses and residents. This should involve some radical, long-term thinking. How can we best make use of empty premises? Do we need to invest in new attractions in the town centre? What are the viable alternatives to travelling into town by car?

We need a dynamic vision for our town centres that capitalises on the wonderful attractions that make our area so unique and adapts to the changes in how we live our lives. That vision needs to be wide ranging. It should identify how we make visiting our town centres a special experience whilst at the same time finding solutions to challenges such as traffic congestion and the need to reduce our carbon emissions.

The Lib Dems want to champion business innovation including the benefits of online retail, but town centres are the heart of our local communities and should not be abandoned to market forces. We recognise that both local and national government have a role to play in ensuring that town centres can thrive.

Locally we have previously campaigned for Working Groups alongside the BID to ensure the vitality and viability of our town centres. On a national level it is Lib Dem policy to abolish the current system of business rates and to reform commercial planning law in order to allow for more flexible and efficient use of commercial space. In 2018 the Government announced the creation of the 'Future High Streets Fund' to support local town centres. But this plan needs to be greatly expanded if it is to be a real benefit to our communities.

Small things can make a difference but a quick lick of paint and tending to weeds won't be enough to secure the future for our town centres. It needs a carefully thought out plan and that means working together with everyone who will be affected.

Judith Rogerson

Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Harrogate & Knaresborough