As Ripon Cathedral continues with its application to build a £6mn annex on council-owned land, local campaigners focus on national planning policy to block the felling and removal of 11 trees, including a healthy veteran beech tree.
Campaigner Pat Waterfall told Yorkshire Bylines that she hoped the planning committee would accept the argument that the current submission could be in breach of the national planning framework, by stating:
“National planning policy, following the advice of both Natural England and the Forestry Commission states that planning permission should be refused if development will result in the loss of a veteran tree(s) unless there are wholly exceptional circumstances. This is obviously not the case here given the numerous alternatives of land and buildings within the cathedral estate.”
She added that the issue of gypsum in Ripon was well known, and that removing trees which soak up water could prove to be disastrous.
Ripon residents concerned over levels of public consultation
Local resident Jenni Holman, who organised the original petition, told Yorkshire Bylines, that she was concerned that people in Ripon were still not aware of the detail of the plans, nor how they could make their views known. This was reflected in the Ripon BID survey results, which indicated that the majority of the businesses concerned had heard about the proposal through word-of-mouth means, rather than a formal consultation.
In the applicant’s ‘Statement of Community Involvement’, the cathedral notes that in August- October 2020:
“An exhibition was held in the cathedral to receive comments on the preferred proposal to provide a new building, linked to the cathedral, to the southwest. This included a feedback form. The public consultation event ran from Saturday 22 August until 6 October 2020. It was well attended, achieving 122 responses to the questionnaire.”
As this scheme was not progressed, owing to an objection from English Heritage, a second ‘public exhibition’ was then held in the cathedral in 2022, signalling a shift in direction.
“A second public exhibition was mounted in the cathedral to show initial plans of a new building adjacent to the Court House. This resulted in 82 written responses and completed questionnaires.”
Holman made the point that these events were known to those who had visited the cathedral only and that their locations changed within the cathedral. She argued that outreach work had not been completed to engage the wider public. It is notable that even within this consultative process, the cathedral acknowledged that “[t]here was criticism that the exhibition did not clearly explain the impact of the loss of trees or provide enough detail of the building”.
Overwhelming objections to the expansion and tree removal
It is noticeable that in the past seven months, there have only been a few supporting comments from the public to the cathedral’s plans. On the other hand, there has been a deluge of objections, adding up to over 1600 formal objections from members of the public.
With Ripon’s population currently standing at just over 16,000, this number of recorded objections is significant and dwarfs the number of supporting comments from members of the public, which stands at approximately 165 comments.
Who owns the land where the expansion is to be built?
Ownership of the land for the proposed annex has been confirmed by North Yorkshire Council as land which belongs to them.
Yorkshire Bylines is still waiting for documents to be released by North Yorkshire council under a freedom of information request to determine the quantity and content of communication between Ripon Cathedral and what was Harrogate Borough Council.
There appears to exist a ‘memorandum of understanding’ suggesting, in principle, that the council would sell the land to the cathedral at full market value for the purpose of the proposed annex build and that the cathedral agreed that they would buy the land in the event that the planning application was approved by the council. This could create an invidious situation, where the party deciding on the application has already agreed to sell the land in question to the applicant.