Over 1,500 formal objections have now been lodged against the plans of Ripon Cathedral to build a two-storey annex to house storage, toilets and a refectory, with an estimated cost of £6mn.
Dean John Dobson states plan creates ‘a moral dilemma’
At a recent public meeting, the Very Reverend Dean John Dobson argued that there had to be a balance between creating a cathedral for the 21st century against the loss of numerous trees, including a healthy veteran tree. He challenged a recent story in the regional press, which suggested that the cathedral wanted to cut down trees, countering, “The cathedral has no desire to take down trees” and that “we lament the removal of trees”. He commented directly that “Sometimes such an act in a fallen world has to be justified”.
He also argued that if the cathedral was to have these facilities then this tree loss would be justified and mitigated by the planting of a number of trees off-site through an agreement with a local landowner.
Yorkshire Bylines asked the dean of the cathedral to share the agreement with the local landowner near Studley to confirm the number and type of new trees which would be planted. This is a key pillar in the cathedral’s mitigation argument but has not been made open and transparent to the public. Unfortunately, the dean declined to comment on this occasion and instead, Michelle Gee, the cathedral’s communication officer, told Yorkshire Bylines that “due process is taking its course and all relevant details will be put in to (sic) the public domain at the appropriate time”.
Dean Dobson emphasised repeatedly that this situation was a “moral dilemma” and that it was “not the cathedral’s aim to be a challenge for local eateries”. In a document handed out at the public meeting, ten reasons were given as to why Ripon Cathedral needed the new annexe. The primary reason given on the document and by the dean was the lack of toilet facilities within the church grounds.
The dean stressed that, “The lack of toilets in the 21st century is unacceptable. This is a key need for people”. Those living in Ripon will be aware of the public toilets nestled close to the cathedral, which certainly are in need of refurbishment, which could be done at a fraction of the £6mn price tag. Other reasons given by the dean as to the urgent necessity of the proposed new annexe were that the cathedral needed: “appropriate shop space”; “it needs catering facilities”; “it needs meeting spaces”; and “it needs acceptable storage”. Local campaigners told Yorkshire Bylines that these ‘necessities’ were not really necessary in a House of God, but instead smacked of capitalism rather than religious contemplation.
Ripon – the ‘sinkhole capital of the UK’
Local campaigner Pat Waterfall complained that:
“The felling of an A1 veteran beech tree and ten of its companions would be an act of vandalism. The replacement planting scheme is totally inadequate, three miles away and consisting mainly of shrubs and short-lived small trees. It will never replace the losses. Trees mitigate radiant heat from buildings, and planting in the countryside, which is already several degrees cooler than a city centre, is tokenism. Central Ripon suffers from poor air quality and mature trees are effective at absorbing and trapping the pollutants.”
She highlighted the National Planning Policy, which is in place to conserve and enhance the natural environment, by correctly identifying the principles which must be applied.
“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.”
Her argument is supported by the National Planning Policy Framework, which states:
“When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles: ‘(c) development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) [my highlighting] should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists’.”
Finally, Waterfall highlighted the known dangers of gypsum that continue to plague Ripon: “Ripon is not known as the ‘Sinkhole Capital of the UK’ (Sky News 2018) for nothing. This year four recently built homes on Bedern Court had to be demolished due to subsidence. Minster Gardens is just a few metres away! Any intrusive ground investigation or new building activity could destabilise surrounding land and buildings, some of which already have noticeable settlement. This will be exacerbated by removing eleven trees from the immediate area.”
Local campaigners pledge to chain themselves to trees
Rosie Ryder, the head of media for Historic England, told Yorkshire Bylines that they recognised the council as the decision maker in the planning process.
“Our position hasn’t changed, though we appreciate how passionate people are about the cathedral and recognise that there are strong opinions on all sides about this application. It is now for the council, as decision maker in the planning process, to balance all of the relevant issues and come to a decision on the application.”
The Ripon Cathedral annexe application will be considered by the Skipton and Ripon area constituency planning committee, potentially as early as the start of next month. With several local campaigners pledging to chain themselves to the trees proposed for removal, the decision to grant permission could end up being a publicity disaster for the cathedral, with forcible removals and police being involved.
If this protest happens, it would mark a dark day for the city of Ripon. The visual of the Church removing protestors looking to protect nature, in order to build an annexe to the cathedral, will cause further rifts in an already divided city.