A resident has rejected a “sarcastic” suggestion from a councillor that hundreds of people as far away as Australia signed a 2,000-strong petition opposing the £11.2m Station Gateway scheme.
Instead, he said they were people in Harrogate using a virtual private network (VPN) to disguise their location.
In May, an online petition calling on the controversial active travel scheme to be scrapped was presented to North Yorkshire Council’s Conservative executive.
But at a meeting later that month, the council’s executive member for corporate services, Cllr David Chance, claimed people from outside of Harrogate were signing the petition in order to boost its numbers.
He described the petition as “bogus” because internet protocol (IP) addresses attached to the petition, which reveal a computer or mobile phone’s location, showed 20% were from areas outside of Harrogate.
He said on May 30:
“I’ve been through it in detail. They come from Canada, South Africa, Australia and Scotland. I’m sorry, the petition for me is slightly bogus in that respect.”
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Cllr Chance’s comments provoked Harrogate resident Barry Adams to submit a statement to the council’s executive at a meeting this week.
Mr Adams argued there was an “odd anomaly” whereby IP addresses were shown on the petition rather than the person’s postal address if they were using a VPN.
A VPN replaces a user’s actual IP address to make it look like they’ve connected to the internet from a different location and they are used for privacy or security reasons.
Mr Adams said:
“Two people I know who most certainly live in Harrogate had their addresses displayed on the petition as Sunderland.
“It seems to confirm that the councillor who announced in a sarcastic manner that he’d rigorously checked the petition and that it proved 20% percent of the signatures lived outside Harrogate area was quite wrong.
“Surely there must be some way in which these misleading discrepancies, fabrications and exaggerations can be taken into account as they are extremely misleading.”
However, Cllr Chance dismissed Mr Adams’ theory and reaffirmed his position that the petition included a large number of signatures from outside of the town.
“I wasn’t being disrespectful at all. I pointed out that 20% of the signatures were indicated as being from outside of North Yorkshire. It’s as simple as that.”
West Yorkshire Combined Authority is currently considering a business case submitted by NYC regarding the scheme.
If WYCA approves it later this summer, a contractor will be appointed with building work set to begin before the end of this year.