The Stray and Valley Gardens are at their best, particularly with all the rain we’ve had recently. The efforts of Harrogate in Bloom and other organisations are to be praised for making our town such a lovely place to live and visit. As I fly off on holiday to far-flung places, what am I served? Harrogate Water! This is a testament to all the hard-working entrepreneurs based in our district. Did you know that there are over 7,500 businesses employing one to nine employees in our area?
Harrogate attracts many events, and hopefully, when the refurbishment of the Harrogate Convention Centre takes place, Harrogate BID delivers, and the Council’s Events Strategy for the town centre begins to bite, we will see an even bigger influx of visitors here. This should help improve our economy, fill the currently empty retail premises, and help our independent businesses to thrive again. I walked through the town centre on Saturday and chatted to several independent business owners, all of whom told me they were worried about the UCI and its effect on their businesses.
You might think that nine days of the UCI Road World Championships, which starts on 21st September, would greatly increase trade for Harrogate’s businesses. Hopefully, that will be true for those in the hospitality sector and for those retail outlets in the centre that attract trade from visitors. A total figure of over 1,000,000 visitors has been suggested for the nine-day period. When the races aren’t on, these people are going to need something to fill their time, so some businesses will definitely feel the benefit. Hosting this event is a coup, as it will most certainly raise the Harrogate brand across the globe, which in turn should increase tourism.
But what of the businesses that solely rely on local custom, such as dentists, opticians, hairdressers, pet shops, kitchen showrooms, and florists, to name just a few? Even a couple of schools are closing some days. It’s probable that the road closures and several main car park closures will keep many locals out of the town, so what happens to those businesses that can’t make up the decreased local footfall with trade from visitors? While retail establishments have been encouraged to try something different to attract spectators, such as staying open later, stocking cycling-relevant products, and offering special promotions, several outlets have already announced they will be closed for the duration of the UCI event, and many more are still considering this. They hope by closing that they will mitigate losses by not having to pay variable costs, such as utilities for that period. Another reason for closing is the difficulty staff will have travelling to and from Harrogate. Others are staying open with a skeleton staff, such as hairdressers, and asking the rest to take unpaid leave. Business owners from Cold Bath Road, Commercial Street, and Westminster Arcade, for example, are fearing the worst. A well-known and popular charity on Otley Road, Horticap, is closing for the weekend, losing essential revenue.
While it’s anticipated that many central retail and hospitality businesses will greatly benefit from the UCI, it seems the rest will be ‘collateral damage’. The Organisers must have realised that some businesses would lose out, but perhaps they are expected to ‘suck it up’ for the good of the town? The expected legacy of an increase in tourism will certainly benefit Harrogate. Unfortunately, the firms who are likely to lose out during the UCI don’t attract custom from tourists. Some wealthier businesses may be able to absorb any losses and make the best of it, but the smaller independents can’t afford to do this. Many are barely making ends meet as it is. Shouldn’t there be plans in place by the Organisers to help firms where the UCI has a negative impact? With businesses already worried about a no-deal Brexit, you can’t blame some of them for being less than enthusiastic about the disruption caused from a nine-day cycling event, however beneficial it may be to Harrogate as a whole. I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't host extraordinary events such as this - far from it - but perhaps the organisers need to consider more deeply the implications for residents, workers, and businesses, and come up with ways to mitigate any collateral damage.
President of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce