The £6mn plans of Ripon Cathedral were challenged today in an open letter penned by campaigners. Despite the Cathedral ‘pausing’ its own application submission to the planning committee, campaigners felt that this created more uncertainty and unnecessary delay.
They urged the Cathedral to withdraw the application and offered two alternative solutions that could be considered instead, to demonstrate how willing they are to work towards a satisfactory solution. By offering these solutions, it heightened the pressure on the Cathedral to produce any amended plans of their own, which would reflect how well they have listened to the informed concerns of residents.
The open letter from campaigners to Ripon Cathedral
Dear Dean John,
We, the undersigned residents of Ripon, wish to express our deep dismay and concern over the continuing division that the £6mn annex plans have caused in the city and call upon you and the Chapter to withdraw the application in its entirety, as starting afresh seems to be the best way of bringing the city and community together.
The benefits of urban trees are well documented, in terms of physical and mental health, as well as the mitigation against the rising threat of climate change and the impact of urban heat islands. Felling these urban trees in a conservation area, in order to build a largely concrete building, will not allow these benefits to be realised. As you are aware, over 2,000 people have now lodged formal objections to this current tree-felling planned expansion.
The Cathedral authorities have consistently been blinkered in your repeated assertion that you must have this exact building, in this exact space. The claim that every other option has been considered and proved impossible, is disingenuous. The option of using your own land of Cathedral Hall was dismissed, so the Cathedral could use this for future residential development and bring in income. It was not impossible – just not desirable.
This message that the Cathedral’s future is at risk, is at odds with the repeated celebration of the success of the Cathedral over the past year – both cannot be true simultaneously.
For example, in the recent Stray Ferret story of 27 January, ‘Call for Ripon Cathedral to take inspiration from Hull Minster’ – a piece that outlined a sensible and informed alternative from a professional architectural expert – a Cathedral spokesperson is quoted as saying that using the Hull example had been “discounted for a number of reasons” and quoted a public document on the planning portal which they claimed “outlines some key reasons why such a development was discounted”. Unfortunately, the planning document referred to does not outline the reasons given and states:
“For a variety of reasons, including unacceptable impacts upon the Cathedral and its surroundings, all but one location has been rejected.”
Slightly tinkering around the edges of the proposal such as increasing planting numbers can never outweigh the loss of 11 mature trees, which includes the veteran beech tree, for the simple reason that planning regulations state that veteran trees cannot be felled unless there are “wholly exceptional circumstances”. The financial opportunity for a business to make more money can not be considered as “wholly exceptional”.
If confidence was high in the original proposal that it would be approved, and that the extension was so sorely needed, then it should have been sent to the planning committee for scrutiny, evaluation and a decision.
Where is the new plan for the city to consult?
The Cathedral has had at least four months to come up with a suitable compromise plan.
Where is it? And why are they not consulting the city on these new plans?
Surely the Cathedral would want to facilitate this at the earliest opportunity.
Again, the Cathedral has made a public statement to the Stray Ferret – 21 January – challenging the idea that the “pause” in plans was owing to national attention, from among others, Channel 4:
“This is not the case at all. This pause and opportunity for further consultation was discussed by the Chapter in the autumn and the decision made to request a pause in December.”
Ripon Cathedral annex: a suitable solution
As we honestly want to find a suitable solution that balances the needs of the Cathedral with the needs of the environment, we would like to offer a suitable alternative. This will now be the second compromise proposal put to you, and it is noticeable that neither the Cathedral or Chapter have offered any alternative plans to the community, suggesting that you simply want to use this “pause” to garner additional support which has not been forthcoming over the past year.
By reducing the scope of the planned two-storey building, it could easily fit where the current toilets stand, given a very slightly enlarged footprint plus an extension into the stonemason’s yard, offering the opportunity to use the existing stone building there for storage.
You will be aware that attempting to consult now on these annex proposals as they stand, will simply highlight the lack of public consultation that you have completed hitherto.
Any new plan will call into question why you spent a year trying to convince the city that your current proposal was the only one available, to then make a sudden u-turn when the national spotlight shone your way.
Moving Ripon forward
We appreciate that tens of thousands of pounds – hundreds of thousands of pounds even – have been sunk into this project already and that investors will be putting pressure on you for a return.
As you have discounted all other plans and locations for vague and nebulous reasons, while we have rejected your proposal for breaking national policy, as well as environmental concerns, we hope that you will demonstrate the good grace to heal the city by withdrawing this current application.
Jenni Holman, Pat Waterfall, Kevin Hill, Andrew Burns, Nicola Bradbury, Karen Gill, Valerie Sheldon, Deborah Mappledoram, Matty Porter, Brian Rhodes, Frayah Humphries, Brian McHugh, Helen Smith, Debbie Carter, Christine Thackwray.