A MOVE by the RHS to lease part of Harrogate’s Pinewoods could spell “the beginning of the end” for the treasured site, conservationists have warned.
RHS Garden Harlow Carr wants to take over a section of the land from Harrogate Council to maintain the new footpath between its gardens and a 500-space car park approved by Harrogate planners in September.
But the Pinewoods Conservation Group says the RHS has been secretive about its lease plans, which they argue could lead to the wild area being spoiled and were not discussed during the planning process.
Committee member Coun Jim Clark told the Advertiser: “What annoys me is that this must have been going on during the time the planning application was happening and I think it should have been brought to people’s attention. It is losing part of its status and I think it is the beginning of the end for the Pinewoods, quite honestly.”
Peter Blayney, of York Road, said he was “appalled” to learn of the RHS’s plans. He described its application for a lease as “a distinctly underhand manoeuvre”.
“What have we come to when an organisation can even suggest such a plan, which would clearly desecrate the western end of this jewel in Harrogate’s crown?” he said. “This has become a natural, wild area that must not be despoiled by ‘manicuring’.”
But Liz Thwaite, head of RHS Garden Harlow Carr, defended the plans and denied there was anything secretive about the lease negotiations, which she said were currently at the “proposal” stage.
“Ever since we’ve been granted planning permission, it’s always been our intention as part of that development to have a pathway through the Pinewoods, which would be natural and sensitive to the surroundings,” she said.
“We have been actively engaging with the Pinewoods group and Harrogate Borough Council to see whether we could lease a small section of the Pinewoods that runs adjacent to the car park.
“We would have responsibility to maintain it and make it an appealing place for visitors, adding interpretation about wildlife and biodiversity.
“It’s a really beautiful area and we don’t want to impact on how it looks and feels at all. Whatever we do is to improve that area and not in any way to spoil it.”
Mrs Thwaite added that there had been “absolutely no intention” of keeping anything secret, but that there had been no point discussing the lease until permission for the car park had been acquired.
She said the conservation group’s concerns could be written into the detail of the lease and she directly addressed concerns that RHS could try to develop the land. “I can absolutely, categorically rule that out,” she said.
Simon Whitfield, of College Road, said both RHS and Harrogate Borough Council had questions to answer about the way the lease had been negotiated.
A council spokesman told the Advertiser: “There is no secret and, of course, the Pinewoods Conservation Group are the main stakeholders here and are being consulted.”