Harrogate’s addiction to SUVs contributing to climate crisis
Last updated Nov 10, 2021

Stray Ferret research has found that Harrogate’s is one of the SUV capitals in the North of England — and our addiction to the bulky gas guzzlers will make it harder to reduce transport emissions.

Sports Utility Vehicles have exploded in popularity over the past twenty years. They’ve been blamed for a global rise in carbon dioxide emissions that is contributing to extreme weather events around the world.

Whilst SUVs such as the Range Rover, BMW X5, and the Kia Sorento might make comfortable family cars, they emit 14% more CO2 than smaller passenger cars due to their size.

The ‘Chelsea Tractor’ has a reputation as one of the ultimate four-wheeled status symbols, but are motorists in Harrogate pricing in their significant carbon cost?

The James Street Tractor

Harrogate’s affluent population might mean its position as an SUV stronghold is not a surprise.

Data obtained by the Stray Ferret found that 18% of all new private vehicles registrations in the last three years in Harrogate were large SUVs.

This means that in the North and Midlands, the district is the 3rd highest English council area for a percentage of vehicles sold being large SUVs.

The Department for Transport data was shared with us by environmental charity Possible.

When the figures are broken down further into a percentage of Range Rovers sold, Harrogate is the 7th highest for the whole of the UK. Number 1 is the home of the “Chelsea Tractor”, Kensington & Chelsea.

Transport emissions account for 49% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the Harrogate district, which is higher than the national average.

To make a serious dent in reducing this number, both North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council are attempting to change driving habits through schemes such as the Station Gateway, yet the district’s appetite for SUVs appears healthier than ever.

‘We deserve some luxury’

For many residents in the villages around the district, four-wheel-drive SUVs are a lifeline in snowy weather.

During last winter’s cold snap, SUVs comfortably drove past smaller cars that were stranded by the side of the road.

One Harrogate car dealer, who has worked at several dealerships across the district over the past decade, said SUV sales went up massively around six or seven years ago and there is now a far greater range of SUVs to choose from.

He believes the emissions from an SUV are not massively different from a typical passenger car, as they are built with many of the same components.

But he conceded that many SUVs are bought in Harrogate for “fashion” reasons.

We also asked some Stray Ferret readers why they think SUVs are so popular in Harrogate.

Charles Haines said people drive them for image and not for practical needs.

He added:

“I’ve seen three people on Facebook buy themselves SUV’s and the post about “treating themselves” or “we deserve some luxury”. The reality is they clog up the roads and they are now being blamed for an increase in CO2.

“The USA has seen a 28-year-high in pedestrian fatalities, which is now being linked to the numbers of SUV’s.”

Robbie Burns said people in Harrogate “have too much money”:

“What a waste in my opinion. I hate them, they are an aggressive vehicle, as a pedestrian I find them very threatening to walk and cross in front of.”

Daniel Ayres said that whilst there are negatives to SUVs they are useful for rural residents.

“There are obviously a bunch of bad reasons but also we are in the countryside and do get hefty snow and rain and have a lot of hills. Four-wheel drive does have uses at those times.”

They are damaging the environment

The International Energy Agency published a report that found around the world SUVs are producing more emissions than the entire aviation industry.

SUVs even produce more emissions globally than heavy trucks.

Many hope the shift towards electric vehicles will help reduce emissions from transport, but Rod Beardshall, transport lead at Harrogate green charity Zero Carbon Harrogate believes it’s not that simple.

He told the Stray Ferret that electric SUVs are not a silver bullet for the environment due to the high amount of CO2 emissions that are created during manufacturing.

There are also ethical questions about how minerals for the batteries are procured, with some concerning reports about cobalt and lithium mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr Beardshall said the world will “hurtle off a cliff” unless we all drive less.

He said:

“I don’t know whether [SUV drivers] don’t realise or simply think one person is not going to make a difference to the planet.

“But we need to get the message out there that SUVs are damaging the environment.”


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