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Harrogate is shopping around for a new look

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 April 2013 | UPDATED: 12:11 24 October 2015

Harrogate town feature

Harrogate town feature

Archant

Harrogate is shopping around for a new look, as Jo Haywood discovers.

Harrogate has a well-deserved reputation as a bit of a looker. It takes pride in its appearance – its effecting architecture, colourful floral displays and general air of understated elegance – and has worked hard to maintain its reputation as one of Yorkshire’s most attractive towns.

But (whisper it discreetly) sometimes even the most well-preserved beauties need a little bit of a facelift. And Harrogate is no exception.

Philip Lunn, managing director of Harrogate-based Lateral Property Group, is leading the charge with his ambitious but achievable plan to restore Parliament Street to its former pivotal retail role.

The company currently has two planning applications lodged with the council, one for the transformation of Harrogate House into a dining destination, with Jamie’s Italian taking top billing and another for an adjacent mixed use development of upmarket shops and quality apartments.

Lateral has also just exchanged on the lease for what is currently Yorkshire Building Society in Cambridge Crescent. It plans to replace finance with fashion by targeting the likes of Barbour, Thomas Pink or Rigby & Peller for this key site.

Its grander Parliament Street plans, which initially included a pedestrianisation scheme, launched a heated debate in this usually quietly-spoken North Yorkshire haven of gentility. Lateral’s motives were questioned and its managing director peppered with personal barbs.

But he remains steadfast and says: ‘This is our home town and very close to our hearts. It’s a project we feel particularly passionate about and our aim all along has been to add something positive to the town.

‘Parliament Street was once a key part of Harrogate, but it has faded into relative obscurity over the years because of traffic challenges and the building of Harrogate House (referred to as “a half-witted practical joke” by Bill Bryson in Notes from a Small Island).

‘Our development will make it a very strong street again. With Bettys at the top, the Royal Baths at the bottom and a host of amazing restaurants and shops in between, it will once again be the anchor that holds Harrogate fast.’

If planning approval is granted in mid-May, Lateral hopes to have its construction team on site on June 1st and the units ready to hand over for fitting out by November. Jamie and the rest of the operators should then be up and running by March 2014, in time to reap the inevitable rewards of the Tour de France.

‘We’ve got a very good track record with Jamie Oliver,’ says Marcus Briggs, Lateral’s retail development director. ‘His people know we can deliver and we know they share our vision. We work together well because we’re of the same mindset. We take buildings that are not conventionally attractive and make them into something special. Parliament Street will be no exception.’

The Stephen Neall Group has successfully undertaken a similar sow’s-ear-silk-purse trick with the former Co-op building in central Harrogate, carrying out a £500,000 refurbishment and refit of the 9,000sq ft building to create a dedicated design centre – The Factory – with a mono-brand Poliform store at its heart.

Stephen Gee, managing director of Stephen Neall, explains: ‘We’re continually pushing the boundaries to create dream homes for private clients and we needed an impressive showroom space to showcase our style and quality standards.

‘Now, after two years, we have The Factory; a design studio and, hopefully, the town’s new hangout for interior designers, architects and, of course, the public.’

A former bowling alley in Tower Street is also about to follow suit with a new look and new purpose. After a year of to-ing and fro-ing in the planning process, Gregory Projects has been given permission to transform the dilapidated building into a 70-bedroom Travelodge.

Development director Richard Tovey says: ‘Since the bowling alley closed down in 2009 the buildings have deteriorated to become an eyesore in desperate need of redevelopment. We bought the site with a view to providing facilities the town needs and at last we can move ahead.’

Tony O’Brien, UK development director for Travelodge Hotels, also welcomed the news – especially as construction should be completed in time for next year’s Tour de France and the increased need for overnight accommodation it will inevitably bring.

‘This is great news,’ he says. ‘Our existing Harrogate hotel on Parliament Street performs strongly all year round and we have long been on the lookout for a suitable second site. This is the perfect location for us and we are delighted to be playing a leading role in revitalising Tower Street.’

Not everyone is as delighted about the changes happening in Harrogate, but is maintaining the status quo a viable option in today’s precarious economic climate?

Leading local businessman Peter McCormick OBE, the first non-executive chairman of Welcome to Harrogate, believes redeveloping key areas of the town is the only way forward. Standing still is simply not an option.

‘There’s never been a better time for this to take place,’ he said. ‘We have to trade our way out of this recession and make sure we have the right offer in place at a time when we’re starting to roll out the Visit Harrogate brand and preparing for next year’s Tour de France.

‘Everyone is going to be looking at Harrogate in the coming months. We’ll be grabbing attention locally, nationally and internationally and we have to ensure we make the most of it.’

Welcome to Harrogate has enjoyed a successful first year, match-funding the £50,000 contributed by the council to help with initial set up costs and working hard to refine the town’s multi-faceted offering into a focused, cohesive brand.

The hand-picked, non-executive board has also just appointed its first project director, tasked with rolling out the Visit Harrogate brand and generally shouting loudly about what the town has to offer from every available rooftop.

She hadn’t signed on the dotted line when Yorkshire Life went to press, so Peter couldn’t reveal who the successful candidate was, but he did confirm that the board was excited about what she could bring to the table.

What do you think about the changing face of Harrogate? Tell us by emailing feedback@yorkshirelife.co.uk, tweeting @Yorkshire_Life or writing to Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163 Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 9AG.

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