No 12: The Great Wall of Briggate saga in Knaresborough
Last updated Dec 22, 2023

In this article, which is part of a series on the 12 stories in the Harrogate district that shaped 2023, we look at the Briggate wall in Knaresborough which has caused disruption this year.

When a section of wall came crashing down on the road at Briggate in Knaresborough on September 14, it didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Although the wall runs alongside one of the busiest roads in the town, nobody was hurt. Surely the rubble could be removed and the wall repaired quickly?

What unfolded over the next few months appeared to confirm many people’s fears about the slow and unresponsive nature of local bureaucracy.

In the aftermath of the collapse, it emerged North Yorkshire Council had been warned about the state of the wall on multiple occasions.

Briggate resident Catherine Rogerson told the Stray Ferret she and others had flagged up concerns the wall was buckling. Ms Rogerson said:

“I said it was an emergency and could collapse, causing a nasty accident.”

Cllr Hannah Gostlow, a Liberal Democrat who represents Knaresborough East, wrote to the council as long ago as June last year warning several old stone walls in Knaresborough needed “investigating and possibly monitoring for safety”, and “could potentially be a risk to life and also their repair could cause significant congestion in the town”. Briggate, she said was top of the list.

Cllr Gostlow, who is the current Knaresborough mayor, told the Stray Ferret:

“This issue was widely known about by residents and councillors.”

Yet the council failed to respond to questions and a freedom of information request by the Stray Ferret about whether it had been warned or release a safety report that was apparently compiled on the wall.

Cllr Gostlow’s email proved prescient: the rubble remained on the road for almost three months, causing two-way traffic lights that led to lengthy delays on a key route in and out of town.

The sight of a pile of stones causing tailbacks not only provided a daily source of irritation, particularly for motorists, and fuelled a sense of council officers in Northallerton distant from the daily problems. Hairdresser Kelly Teggin summed up the mood when she said:

“I don’t believe in this day and age nothing can be done to get both lanes back open as soon as possible.”

It wasn’t as simple as it seemed: Karl Battersby, the council’s corporate director for environment, said on November 22 that some cellars belonging to residents had been impacted by the collapsed wall and consequently the “works are now more complex than first anticipated”.

But frustration continued to grow. There were even rumours of residents literally taking the matter into their own hands by turning up to remove the rubble, but this never materialised. The traffic lights were still there during Knaresborough Christmas Market Weekend when there is usually a moratorium of roadworks in the town.

Pic: Knaresborough and District Chamber

Finally, on November 27 work began and by mid-December the section of collapsed wall had been repaired to widespread acclaim at the quality of finish. The traffic lights were removed but the saga is far from over.

Further maintenance work along the rest of the wall is due to take place at an unspecified date in the new year — meaning the traffic lights will be back.

Cllr Matt Walker who represents Knaresborough West described the council’s handling of the saga as “wholly inadequate”. He said:

“The council have avoided answering questions including providing a safety report that was done days before the wall fell. I wonder why?

“A full investigation needs to be done to understand why it happened in the first place and lessons learned. Residents have lost faith in the highways team to do anything and so have I.”

Knaresborough may have been spared the peril of buildings made of crumbling concrete but the town’s crumbling walls could prove to be equally difficult to fix.

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