How Harrogate objections halted plans for a Leeds conference venue – for now

A visualization of the location of proposed events in Leeds and student accommodation blocks.

But that was not the case after a wave of objections arrived at the eleventh hour from groups in Harrogate who fear the proposals could scare business away from the city and its convention centre.

These objections were led by Paula Lorimer, director of the Harrogate Convention Centre, who criticized a study which suggested the impact of the Leeds site would be minimal as “flawed, inaccurate, outdated and in some areas, totally wrong”.

Proposals for the former Yorkshire Bank headquarters were submitted in March and Ms Lorimer claimed there had been an ‘absence of dialogue’ from Leeds City Council.

She said she only found out about the plans last week – just days after they were recommended for approval.

Yet the council hit back, saying Ms Lorimer and Harrogate Borough Council chief executive Wallace Sampson were alerted to the proposals months before they were submitted.

“That was August last year…we haven’t heard anything since,” said a city council officer.

Ms Lorimer responded by saying that the proposed venue was now a third larger than originally planned and that the study which suggested that up to 6% of trade could be diverted from the Harrogate Convention Center had been underestimated by 50%.

She said at the meeting last Thursday: “We would have expected to be consulted before this request.

“If that had happened, we might have avoided having to go down the path we took today in protest.

“Unfortunately, we had no choice.”

Harrogate Borough Council tourism body Destination Harrogate and the town’s Crown Hotel have all spoken out against the plans.

The Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and the Harrogate Business Improvement District also oppose it.

In a letter to City Council, Destination Harrogate said the Leeds site could have a “hugely detrimental impact” on Harrogate’s tourism offering, which it described as “the lifeblood of this city”.

The letter also said it was ‘essential’ that a £49m development of the Harrogate Convention Center be supported, while Leeds’ plans should be ‘reassessed’.

“If you fail to do this, you are exposing the Harrogate district and its hospitality sector to significant threats to jobs and economic damage,” he said.

David Simister, chief executive of the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, also said in a separate letter: “The Harrogate Convention Center plays an important role in the economy of the Harrogate district – it attracts visitors from all over the world. for events, exhibitions and shows.

“It helps support a multitude of businesses – hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and in turn their suppliers and it creates jobs.

“Having worked in the hospitality industry, I know how vital the Harrogate Convention Center is to Harrogate town centre, and even taking 1% of trade will impact the town and businesses.”

Bringing a conference venue to Leeds has been a long-term ambition of the City Council who will no doubt be determined to push the plans forward.

The question is how much weight this will give to objections from the Harrogate Convention Centre, business groups and the Borough Council who have always been seen as friendly neighbors to Leeds.

The proposals will now be brought back to another city council meeting in September.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Journalist

Previous 2023: APC plans a stakeholder conference
Next ZetrOZ systems showcased at the 2022 PHATS/SPHEM Annual Conference