Independent Harrogate is a growing and developing group of local independent businesses. It has grown to 170 businesses in just 4-months and is developing a focus on what the problems are for the town centre of Harrogate and the possible solutions.
When was the group formed ?
Only in July this year.
Why was the group formed ?
There had for some time been increasing concern among town centre businesses that there was a recent rapid decline in the core shopping streets, caused by national chains pulling out of town. This was exacerbated by an increasing sense of neglect of the street scene by the local authorities and unresolved antisocial behaviour. The catalyst for action was the real threat of increased parking charges and possible further pedestrianisation in the town centre.
Robert and Ben Ogden and William Woods, whose families have run their businesses in town for several generations and who care deeply about the state of the town, decided that something had to be done and started taking sounding around the town centre and collecting contact details.
In addition to the threat of damaging increased parking charges, we also soon discovered that there was no representation of independent retailers on the board of Harrogate BID, who when asked to appoint some, as shown in their business plan, said they could not do so. This led to looking deeper into the workings of BID and as to whether they have been wisely spending levy payers’ money.
Another currently live issue is the substantial damage that the UCI caused to a number of town-centre businesses. There is a ground-swell of opinion that rather than increase parking charges NYCC should offer to increase free parking in the town centre in the run-up to Christmas. NYCC was instrumental in bringing the UCI to Harrogate and devised the removal of traffic from the town, the travel arrangements and road closures. They managed to forego parking revenue during the event and there is a strong argument that they should do so again as a gesture to their rate-payers who they so adversely affected.
How many members do you have and broadly what sectors are they from ?
We currently hold 170 email addresses of a variety of businesses, nearly all in the Harrogate BID levy area. The initial ‘members’ were mainly independent retailers, but this has now expanded to include a number of independent businesses in other sectors and some chains.
Do you have a hierarchy e.g. a chairperson or secretary ?
Not at present; IH is only an informal ‘voice’ of a substantial number of concerned and upset businesses. Since the recent the recent inaugural open meeting, a steering group is being planned.
In a perfect world the local authorities would see the sense of more free parking and no more pedestrianisation in the town-centre to help reverse current trends, and the Harrogate BID would welcome the input of independent businesses and pull together with everyone as a Town Team to revive the town’s fortunes. So far neither of the local authorities nor BID are standing against the imposition of higher parking charges. If these things happened there would be no need for Independent Harrogate.
What should people do if they are not an independent, but are passionate about the town ?
If they are businesses, particularly in the BID levy area, with the same concerns as us – contact us. If not, lobby your local authority representatives, contact the media and make your views known.
What resources do you have, how do you know you are doing the right thing ?
None. The ‘members’ are already paying a substantial levy; we cannot ask them to pay twice.
There is universal agreement that Harrogate town-centre has declined. ‘The right thing’ is to reverse that decline and return Harrogate to its former glory.
How do you work alongside other business groups, e.g. Chamber, Harrogate BID ?
We are in close contact with The Chamber of Commerce, and trying hard to get appropriate representation on the BID Board and getting them to work in harmony with local independent retailers.
We are also being actively supported by the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) which represents 7,000 businesses, nationally.
What does the town need to do right now ?
- Have a better parking regime that encourages more churn and footfall
- Concentrate resources on improving the appearance of the town centre – weeds, unpainted street furniture, bent railings, dirty pavements, covering empty shop windows, anti-social behaviour etc. etc.
- Spend levy money effectively
- Create a well-managed ‘Town Team’ of stakeholders who are all pulling together in the same direction
What does the town need to do longer term ?
- Re-purpose the town centre
- Attract high-quality retailers and businesses
- Be able to again genuinely sell Harrogate town centre as a jewel in the crown of Yorkshire
What are the risks for Harrogate if there isn’t action ?
- More vacant properties
- Loss of reputation
- Lack of effective remedial action
- No reduction in business rates
- Inflexible planning rules
- Changing shopping habits
- Lack of clear Vison/Strategy
- BID levy not being spent effectively
- ‘Rebellion’ by BID levy payers
- Town centre reaching a negative tipping point – getting into a ‘doom loop’
- Not properly defining the Harrogate ‘product’
- Selling a wrong (downmarket) ‘Harrogate’
- Loss of perception of quality
- Not re-purposing the town centre for modern needs
- Congestion on the access routes into the town
If you would like to learn more about the group see www.independentharrogate.org