Campaigners against Ripon Cathedral’s £6mn plans to build an annex on council owned land staged a public protest in the contested green space today. Around 100 people used placards to conduct a peaceful protest against the annex expansion plans which they hope, alongside the 1,800 formal objections on the planning application, will be enough to preserve and conserve one of the few open green spaces within Ripon’s conservation area.
‘Crime tape’ was stretched between the proposed affected area to symbolise the ecological ‘crime’ of removing veteran healthy trees by erecting a concrete building which would take up approximately 731 square metres.
Ripon’s oasis for mental health
Local organiser, Jenni Holman, who started the original petition against the plans, told Yorkshire Bylines:
“This demonstration is the culmination of months of trying to raise awareness of the plans the cathedral has to fell 11 trees in this park in order to build a large annexe here. The 11 trees include some ancient trees including this beech tree which has veteran status. All trees are incredibly important for providing homes for wildlife and insect habitats, let alone the air purification aspect.
“This park is a beautiful, peaceful oasis and too many people forget how invaluable trees, parks and green space is for people’s mental health.
“Planning permission hasn’t yet been granted, so we are hoping the relevant councillors will listen to the ordinary residents of Ripon and refuse permission, even though the church is so powerful.”
Campaigners fear ‘accidental damage’ to veteran tree
Local campaigners told Yorkshire Bylines that they feared a repeat of the Sycamore Gap tree damage. They pointed out that illegally felling a tree could be punished by a fine of tens of thousands of pounds, but when weighed against a £6mn project, that could be the price to pay by the applicant.
Conserving the trees is one of the major obstacles to the proposed expansion and if they were damaged or felled illegally, this could solve at least one of the issues. Once the tree was gone, it would be gone, and the problem would be ‘solved’. They urged that the planning committee should be watchful for any illegal pruning or damage during the planning process.
Campaigner Pat Waterfall said:
“Ripon is currently at risk of losing a much-loved public open space – Minster Gardens, along with most of its associated trees – because the Cathedral wants to build a large glass and reinforced concrete building there. Eleven mature trees would be lost including a magnificent 150–200-year-old healthy beech tree which is graded A1 and is on the Register of Veteran Trees.
“The supposed ‘replacement’ planting is totally inadequate. It will be in the form of a small copse some miles away in open countryside; of the eight species to be planted, four are shrubs and another three are short-lived small trees. The planning application states that 61 ‘trees’ will be planted in total and neglects to include an appropriate maintenance plan.
“There is also concern over the remaining three trees. The building site will be extremely congested, and, once work starts, it is difficult to imagine how there could possibly be room for lorries to access the site and for enormous quantities of materials to be stored and moved around within it without extreme risk of damage to the remaining trees.”
Protecting what could be lost by Cathedral expansion
Local photographer, Paul Oldham, highlighted the beauty of the Minster Gardens (the contested land) in a series of recent photographs, aiming to draw people’s attention to what might be lost if the proposal were to be passed by the planning committee. He mischievously poked fun at public comments, which described the gardens as ‘dark and dingy’.
Capitalism cannot trump conservation
The protesters deliberately chose their protest day to coincide with the Ripon Cathedral Fair, where stallholders are given space in the Cathedral to sell their wares, in exchange for paying over £100 to run the stall. With entrance fee to the fair and public charged at £5, protesters felt strongly that the Cathedral was acting more like a business, rather than a house of prayer.
On this basis, they felt that it should be scrutinised more as a business and that the information on the local retail impact should be made available, so that local businesses could be informed as to how much they might benefit from the expansion, or how much they could be hurt by the plans.
A time to heal
It is becoming increasingly inevitable that Ripon Cathedral will have to make a significant compromise proposal, in order to keep the support of the city. Unfortunately, this may mean moving location, or downsizing plans, both of which the Cathedral and its Chapter (governing body) have spent a year vigorously arguing cannot be done to gain the necessary facilities, as all options have been thoroughly examined.
After sinking so much money in expert reports, ground surveys and the wooing of investors, the Cathedral has to produce some kind of new plan. Whether this revised plan will meet with public approval will depend on how much public dialogue and consultation is now completed in good faith.