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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: