HAPARA Western Arc

A report titled Campaign for Sustainability of Development has just been published by the Western Arc Coordination Group. While we had some input into it, and our name appears on the front page, the content of the report does not reflect our views on traffic issues.

The report identifies a number of pressure points for vehicular traffic, and implies that roads will need to be upgraded to accommodate more traffic, while taking a negative view of sustainable transport options. Studies consistently show that increasing capacity for motor vehicles results in more traffic.

In our view, the report should focus on sustainable transport such as electric buses, cycling and walking, to connect residents to local destinations and public transport hubs. This is set out in more detail below.

Exemplars of Sustainable Development

We agree with the statement on the first page of the report, that any developments in the Harlow and Pannal Ash area should be exemplars of sustainable development. We don’t want to see the same types of housing estates generating the same levels of traffic and energy consumption.

However, we disagree with Section 2 of the report, Traffic Issues.

Section 2 Traffic Issues

The report’s approach to traffic issues is far too negative about sustainable transport, and too reliant on expanding road capacity. Our views on the flaws in the report’s arguments, and our suggestions for better solutions to traffic problems, follow.

Pressure Points

The report identifies a number of ‘pressure points’.

HAPARA Pressure Points
HAPARA Pressure Points

It calls for ‘significant infrastructure improvements at all these points’. The implication seems to be that this means road-widening, but it is not made clear.

In our view, increasing capacity by road-widening is impossible at most of these locations, even if it were desirable; for example, there isn’t space to make Otley Road a dual carriageway. Adjusting traffic light settings is tinkering at the margins and will never have a transformative effect.

Also, it is wrong to believe that there is a fixed volume of traffic. Traffic is a product of human choices, not a force of nature. If you increase capacity at some locations and make it more convenient to drive, the number of journeys by car will increase, traffic will spill over onto unimproved roads and junctions, and the cycle of traffic increases and congestion begins again.

“Building more roads is in any case senseless. It is often the first reaction from ministers who want to look as though they are doing something. Of course, you do sometimes have to make roads wider, and re-work junctions, but if you think you’re going to solve the problem of congestion like that, you’re wrong…Building more roads results in an increase in congestion.”

Professor of transport policy bert van wee, technical university of delft

We recognise that commuter traffic on unsuitable roads through villages like Burn Bridge is a problem. The solution is to make these routes less convenient for through traffic, so that people choose to drive on main roads or use another means of transport.

Sustainable Modes of Travel

The report is very negative about sustainable modes of travel.

It asserts that cycling and walking are ‘very unlikely to make a significant dent in the expected traffic increase, without a massive investment into a full cycling network’.

A Cycle Network

We campaign for a full cycle network, and we believe it’s a large part of the solution to congestion problems in Harrogate. Changes in modes of travel can occur rapidly as soon as proper infrastructure is provided.

Bike paths cost a lot less than roads, so it is disappointing to see this described as a ‘massive investment’, whereas no mention is made of cost when the report discusses new roads. Return on investment in active travel routes is also far higher than that on new roads.

Bike routes need to be clearly safe, because 62% of UK adults feel that the roads are too dangerous for them to cycle on (para 4.4, Cycle Infrastructure Design). Although the report identifies heavy traffic as a disincentive to cycling, it doesn’t mention the solutions: providing bike lanes with physical protection from traffic, or in parks or other locations away from traffic.

Routes must also be direct so it is as convenient, or more convenient, to go by bike; and there has to be a coherent network of routes.

The Highways Authority has a mandate to create such a network: the Congestion Survey results in August 2019 showed 77% of respondents in favour of better walking and cycling routes. So far there has been no attempt to implement the results of the Survey.

Harrogate Congestion Survey
Harrogate Congestion Survey, walking and cycling answer

Making high-quality provision for walking and cycling is consistent with the stated aims of HAPARA’s report – to design sustainable developments and reach net zero. Increasing capacity for motor vehicles is not.

The report states that ‘hilly terrain’ is a disincentive to cycling, but the Harlow and Pannal Ash area is not an area of very steep hills. Also, electric bikes are becoming more and more popular, and they make mild gradients very easy.

South Western Routes

Page 6 of the report appears to be a call for a south western bypass, although it is not clear or explicit. It discusses routes between the B6162 Otley Road and the A61, and laments traffic jams on minor roads through Pannal, Burn Bridge and North Rigton.

The report calls for ‘measures to improve the alternative routes between the B6162 and A61’ and ‘a major upgrade in highway capacity commensurate with the predicted increase in traffic’.

Logical Flaws

We do not want to see high volumes of through traffic in these villages, but we believe there are fatal flaws in the report’s logic.

As discussed above, traffic is not a fixed volume that must be accommodated. If you provide extra capacity, you induce more traffic, and make congestion problems worse in the long run. For example, what would a south western bypass do to traffic volumes and congestion on Otley Road? Or on the A61 at Harewood, or the edge of Leeds? Traffic would increase and congestion would get worse.

We Need to Reduce Car Trips Not Increase Them

Also, it is surprising to see a call for road-building in a report about sustainable development and reaching net zero. The recent UK Climate Assembly report identified that we need to reduce the amount we use our cars. Increasing road capacity and volume of traffic takes does not contribute to the aim of reaching net zero – it takes us further away.


Real solutions could include:

  • Making it less convenient to use these villages as through routes, not more convenient, so as to encourage drivers to use the existing main roads
  • Encouraging sustainable transport: for example, there should be high-quality bike routes to Harrogate station; enough covered and secure bike parking there; and keenly-priced, comfortable, frequent trains to Leeds and York
  • Reducing the need for travel, by providing facilities locally within walking or cycling distance
  • Park & Ride for incoming traffic

In summary, we would like to see a focus on making it safe, easy and attractive to make short, local journeys by active travel. We don’t believe that building extra capacity for motor vehicles is a solution to any of the problems identified by the report.

HAPARA Sustainable Development Report

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