Council criticised after planned Christmas market fails to secure site license

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Organisers of Harrogate Christmas Market have hit out at Harrogate Borough Council after the council declined to agree a licence for this year’s event to go ahead at the Montpellier Hill Stray site.

Brian and Beryl Dunsby and event chairman Steve Scarre said they had not been given a chance to meet council officers and experts to discuss concerns about the market.

But the council has responded that it had “ongoing conversations” with organisers “over a number of years”, adding: “Significant concerns remain and as the event organiser isn’t willing to address these, then we simply cannot grant a licence for this location.

“We have suggested other locations to the event organiser but these have been refused.”

In a statement, the market organisers said news of the license rejection followed “several weeks of silence” whilst the council was meant to be evaluating their Event Plan which was submitted on 5 May and the supplementary information which the council subsequently requested, which was submitted on 10 June.

Their statement adds: “At no point has there been any opportunity to meet the council officers and other key experts to discuss their outstanding concerns.

“We have bent over backwards to fulfil all the recommended security and safety measures around the site.

“In contrast to all their criticisms, we have not had the opportunity to talk about the benefits which the market brings to town centre businesses.

“Many town centre shop-keepers and other local businesses have told us that the Christmas Market days are the best four days trading of the year.

“In 2016, an independent report by consultant Malcolm Veigas into possible alternative locations, commissioned by the council, concluded: ‘This review confirms the Stray is the best location for events in the town and as such should continue to be used as the location for the Christmas Market.’

“We still believe the totally open nature of this location with free access in all directions provides a safe location for the event whilst being as close as possible to the town centre shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes.

“We regret the council has acted prematurely in refusing to grant a licence for the market in 2021 without any discussion with the organisers over the outstanding issues.”

Cllr Richard Cooper

Councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, responded: “Although ultimately the decision belongs to the council, all evidence which is put together to enable us to make that decision comes from partners and stakeholders like North Yorkshire Police, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, etc.

“If the feedback from them is that they have concerns about safety then we have little choice but to decline a licence.

“If we allowed the event organisers to ignore those concerns, licenced them to press ahead and, God forbid, there was an incident of some kind I know exactly what would happen.

“Understandably, the cry would go up: ‘Why didn’t you listen to what the police said? Why did you ignore the overcrowding? Why did you think you knew best?’

“The decision is made to protect people’s lives on the basis of what the emergency services tell us.

“A number of people of asked; ‘why haven’t we worked with the event organiser to allow it to continue?’ I can assure you, we have.

“We have had ongoing conversations to encourage them to address the concerns over a number of years, and we recognise that progress has been made.

“However, significant concerns remain and as the event organiser isn’t willing to address these, then we simply cannot grant a licence for this location.”

The council adds it understands residents and businesses “welcome and rely on” a Christmas market in the town centre, so it is working hard to ensure alternative festivities take place.