The £10.9m Harrogate Gateway project has been approved after a key vote which paves the way for major changes to several town centre streets.

Today’s decision from North Yorkshire County Council’s executive will be followed by a final business case for the controversial project which aims to create a more attractive and accessible Harrogate with improved walking and cycling routes.

Construction works could now start in spring or summer despite objections from some businesses and residents who say their concerns over the impacts on trade and traffic have not been taken seriously.

Councillor Don Mackenzie, executive member for access at the county council, told a meeting today that the authority had listened to these concerns but he believed they are “not at all realistic”.

He said: “While I welcome the determined participation in the process of various groups, none of them appear to be offering any realistic, alternative measures to combat congestion which in Harrogate is the worst of any urban centre in our county.

“I’m often asked what is the county council’s mandate for introducing this scheme and I always refer those people to the Harrogate Congestion Study which took place in 2019.

“A total of 15,500 residents decided to respond to that consultation and gave a very clear message to us.

“They wanted better measures for walking and cycling, for us to boost public transport and encourage people – especially for short journeys – to get out of their cars and onto their bikes, feet and public transport.

“It is my belief the Gateway scheme does exactly that.”

Three of Harrogate’s leading business groups which have been at the forefront of the objections had called for a delay to today’s vote after complaints they were only made aware of an economic case for the project last week.

Harrogate BID, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and Independent Harrogate also said businesses hit by Covid could not endure more “major disruption and misery” during the planned construction works.

David Simister, chief executive of the chamber of commerce, told today’s meeting: “The views of the business community have been continually ignored, as have those of other key organisations, in particular Harrogate Civic Society, residents’ organisations and individuals who believe what is being proposed will not bring the benefits being espoused.”

Andrew Brown, a member of the civic society, also told today’s meeting that some of the proposals to improve Station Square are “poor” and “do not reflect the distinctive character of Harrogate”.

The project is being backed by Harrogate Borough Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, with funding coming from the government’s Transforming Cities Fund.

Similar projects are also planned for Selby and Skipton, and councillors today voted unanimously to approve all three proposals.

A report to today’s meeting said the timescales for completion of the projects by the initial target date of March 2023 have “always been challenging” and that works could continue into 2024.

The plans for Harrogate include:

Station Parade

The street will be changed to one-way traffic to create wider footpaths and a two-way cycle lane.

On-street parking on the east side of the street will be removed.

Major changes to the Station Parade and Cheltenham Parade junction to encourage walking and cycling.

A new bus lane on Station Parade from Bower Road will be created with the aim of providing quicker and more reliable bus journeys.

New traffic signals will be installed to allow a balance between vehicles and cyclists near the bus station.

On-street loading bays and blue badge parking bays will be introduced.

There will also be a wider pedestrian crossing outside Harrogate train station.

Station Square

A water jet feature surrounded by tree planting, seating and space for art installations will be built, as well as a flexible space for public events.

James Street

A part-time pedestrianisation of the eastern side of James Street will be introduced to create space for trees, planting and seating.

Vehicle access onto the street will be controlled by rising bollards.

A loading space for businesses is also planned.

One Arch underpass

There will be upgrades to the walking and cycling link with new lighting and a more attractive entrance.

Station Bridge/Station Avenue/East Parade/North Park Road roundabout

Major junction changes to create a Dutch-style roundabout with greater priority for pedestrians and cyclists.

Cheltenham Parade

A new cycle lane towards Station Parade.

Cheltenham Mount

A one-way restriction at the Mount Parade junction to reduce traffic in the area.

Bower Road

A new cycle lane making use of the existing underpass.