Beryl and Brian Dunsby - Harrogate Christmas Market
Beryl and Brian Dunsby - Harrogate Christmas Market

Harrogate Christmas Market, time for the council to work with, rather than against it ?

7 August 2021

Harrogate Borough Council have said they have declined a licence for the Harrogate Christmas Market on Montpellier Hill.

The question is, is the council are being unnecessarily obstructive, if there are genuine deal-breaking issues for it going ahead or if the council just need to work in a more constructive way to facilitate the event.

Although HBC have said they would look at other locations, it is not clear why an alternate location would necessarily be any more acceptable. There is no visibility of what HBC is doing other than  putting a great deal of effort into making sure the event doesn’t take place.

We spoke to Harrogate Borough Council about this on Monday, 2 August 2021, who said that they didn’t want to comment further on it, but then followed in the week with a YouTube video, defending their decision.

The argument for halting the event is being put forward by HBC on largely generic issues, making it difficult to argue the specifics of the issues. Also, there is a reluctance by HBC to work on those specifics to create a solution for the benefit of the town.

We also need to be mindful that the event is a not for profit event, so all additional expenditure affects how much can be donated to charities from the profits.

The wording that is being used needs some analysis:

“After careful consideration, they are unable to agree the use of Montpellier Hill Stray site for the Christmas Market and as such cannot grant a licence.”

“Hope you are able to identify a suitable alternative location to allow the event to take place elsewhere.”

The reasons being given to the organisers are:

  • Potential overcrowding
  • Evacuation procedures
  • Counter-terrorism measures

Potential overcrowding

The market is an un-ticketed event, where people can freely enter and go into the any of the covered marquee areas. So the concern is around the overall volume of people and specific pinch points. There is no perimeter fencing around the entire market, so people can walk in at will.

The Stray has had many other events that have been enclosed and ticketed, this could be the case for the Christmas Market.

Evacuation Procedures

This is about getting people out quickly if there is an incident, and links in very much to counter-terrorism measures. But confusingly, counter-terrorism measures talk about controlling access but also that same control of access can limit egress times. So fencing-in the event would make this more complex, but this is an area that can be managed by the organisers, although it hasn’t been identified as clearly as it needs to be in event planning.

Counter-terrorism measures

In 2019 the event had many concrete physical barriers to stop vehicles entering the site, along with a gate at the top of Montpellier Hill. The question is why does this event come under significantly stricter rules, when other events on the Stray don’t have to do so. For instance, the space used by the UCI on West Park had no such measures.

The question here is why is this event is seen as such a significant more risk compared to the UCI, Tour de France, Bed Race, and more recently the Foodie and Drink Festival or the Fake Festival.

None of the those events mentioned had physical barriers on all sides, but that is what is being demanded for the Christmas Market.

Montpellier Stray in Harrogate
Montpellier Stray in Harrogate

The event is run by Brian and Beryl Dunsby. It is not run as a big profit making venture, but operated as a venture that provides benefit to the town coming up to Christmas. It brings people into the town, and the town benefits from those visitors.

In comparison, Leeds City Council pays to bring a Christmas Market to the city, but in comparison the Harrogate Christmas market has to pay back to the councils with such things as  lost revenue from parking.

Brian Dunsby said:

The event has grown over the years, and with that growth it creates further challenges. Over the years we have aimed to tackle all those challenges to ensure it can still go ahead.

There is a real feel that the council is working against us, and we need them to work with us.

We have around 170 traders booked already, with around another 20 to 30 traders on top that number. We haven’t taken any payment for bookings and have taken those bookings on the understanding that they are subject to receiving a licence.

We have covered ourselves by not taking money from the traders or coach operators, and were planning to invoice in September.

As an event, we have in place all the stall layouts, ground protections and whole host of other infrastructure needed for an event like this.

To simply up and move the event would logistically be very very difficult.

Harrogate Borough Council have said that the event could go ahead in another location, and there have been other expressions of interest.

Brian said:

We can’t identify a site within the town that is more suitable than where we are now.

There have been markets down the main pedestrian way, but that has created issues for the shops, and would create issues with distancing. Princess Square has also been talked about, but there is nowhere in the town centre that has the space needed.

We feel that Montpellier Hill is the best location, but we need the council to work with us to make that happen though.

Some media showing the location:




  1. Most Christmas Markets abroad are held in the streets and do not interfere with the shops as it is a different style of goods compared to the shops. It could be spaced over different areas of the town to make it more in line with the ‘Covid’ regulations. Why make a mess of the stray as no doubt it will be waterlogged by then and also not easy for older people to navigate Montpellier hill even taking a bus means a wait of two hours or more due to traffic.

    • I agree. Having events like this right in the town centre adds to the vibrancy. There are several areas that could be used and linked e.g station Square, Princess Square, main pedestrian area, area around the war memorial, possibly Victoria Ave. This would mean people were visiting the town centre area still and help give it more life.

  2. The Christmas Market has outgrown the area and is dangerous. It would be better to hold the event in town where the surfaces are flat and solid. Easier for older people, pushchairs and people with disabilities. By holding the event in town it would not destroy the festive ambiance. It would be more central to the Christmas festivities as a whole and not so vulnerable to wet weather. It works perfectly well in other towns and cities. Why damage the already fragile Stray in that part of Harrogate which then looks a complete mess for months, spoiling the look of Montpellier for visitors and residents alike. Think outside the box please.

  3. Dear all. As someone who has traded at the market for many years, my sense is this : Harrogate is extremely fortunate to have the christmas market that it does. It is as idiosyncratic as the town, and a rarity in its atmosphere, charm, and indeed its structure as a not for profit venture borne from a love and appreciation of the unique character of Harrogate. I trade all across the UK and further afield, and it is with relief and excitement that I come to the Stray each year to meet such lovely traders and customers. It is unblemished by quangos, delivered by hard working people of integrity and vision. We should not look back and say ” oh, do you remember the christmas market, how lovely it was ? ” Please embrace it, nurture it, work with it. It is a fine asset to a magnificent town, a town built on the enterprise and hard work that is reflected and celebrated through the market.
    I sincerely hope that whatever needs to be resolved is resolved. Harrogate christmas market is a community market of the best type, and without it, the town would be poorer.

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