Council spends £2m on consultants for Harrogate’s Station Gateway
Jun 22, 2023
The Harrogate Station Gateway scheme.
How Station Parade will look

More than £2 million has already been spent on outside consultants to work on Harrogate’s controversial Station Gateway scheme, figures reveal.

The £11.2 million active travel project will transform the area outside Harrogate Station to make it more friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.

It’s being led by North Yorkshire Council, which replaced North Yorkshire County Council, which previously led on the project, in April due to local government reorganisation.

To develop the project the council hired global consultancy firm WSP to draw up its business case and preliminary and detailed designs.

Following a freedom of information request submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, North Yorkshire Council has revealed just over £2 million has been paid to WSP so far with the majority going towards design costs.

In a statement, the council argued that its use of consultants for the scheme is commonplace and typical of large-scale active projects across the country.

It also said consultants can help when there is not the required expertise within the council.

But the public sector’s increasing reliance on consultants, often to plug gaps created during austerity, has troubled some with a Guardian editorial published in March stating consultants are a “symptom of shrinking faith in the public sector”.

‘A money pit’

Liberal Democrat councillor for Knaresborough West, Matt Walker, who is a critic of the Station Gateway scheme, told the LDRS that the amount spent on consultants is a signal that the project “is shaping up to be a money pit“ for taxpayers.

Mr Walker, who will be standing for the Lib Dems in next month’s Selby and Ainsty by-election, said:

“That is a huge amount of public money to spend on consultants, more than 15% of the cost of the scheme. It’s a money pit that is not part of a wider strategic plan for active travel and one which does not have the full backing of the local community, or businesses.

“The cost of building materials has already sky rocketed since the original costing for the scheme was done. Are we going to cut back on what is delivered or pour money tax payers money into this scheme?

“What Harrogate needs is real investment, as part of a strategic plan to deal with congestion. Innovative and exciting options for active travel not costly consultants.”

‘Increased consultation pushed up costs’

The council said the sum paid to WSP has increased due to the additional public consultation which led to designs being changed.

Karl Battersby, the council’s corporate director of environment, said:

“Consultants have only been used where there is not sufficient in-house resource or very specific expertise within the council. This is a common occurrence with consultants used for almost, if not all, Transforming Cities Fund projects across the country.

“The cost includes survey work as well as individual disciplines – landscaping, highways, traffic modelling, signals, drainage, lighting – consultation support, planning and Traffic Regulation Orders, and project management, including business case development, risk reviews, programming and attendance at meetings.

“The design cost has increased where additional works have been identified, such as revisions to landscaping or additional consultation engagement.”

Background to the scheme

Among the proposals include redeveloping the area outside Harrogate Station, making Station Parade single-lane to add cycle and bus lanes and part-pedestrianising James Street.

But it’s divided the town with the results of the third and final round of public consultation, published in January, suggesting the Harrogate public are narrowly against it.

It’s still to receive final approval but won the backing of senior councillors in Northallerton at a meeting last month.

The predicted cost of the scheme is now £11.2m — a sum that has risen considerably from the £7.9m initially suggested by council.