What Pinewoods Conservation Group says about latest decision by Harrogate Spring Water

A Harrogate conservation charity has given a cautious welcome to Harrogate Spring Water's announcement it would accept the rejection of the most recent version of its expansion plans at Rotary Wood.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 9:49 am
Updated Thursday, 29th July 2021, 9:50 am
Flashback to 2017 and an early version of Harrogate Spring Water's plans showing the location of Rotary Wood.

After a wrangle already lasting nearly five years, the latest twist and turn yesterday saw the bottled spa water company accept the rejection of its current plans by councillors in January - but then issue a pledge it was going to submit a new planning application in the coming weeks with details shared widely with the community.

Reacting to the news, Pinewoods Conservation Group, which was formed in October 2002 to promote the maintenance and conservation of the environment in the Pinewoods area, situated between the Valley Gardens and Harlow Carr Garden, said its opposition to losing any of Rotary Wood, which was planted by Harrogate Rotary Club, was unlikely to change.

A spokesperson for the Pinewoods Conservation Group said “We will review any new plans carefully and continue to engage.

"We are also pleased to see that the feedback provided by ourselves and other groups will be taken onboard.

"However, any plans that result in the loss of any part of Rotary Wood that is part of a designated “Asset of Community Value” under the Localism Act will continue to be difficult for our members to support.

"A key challenging factor that is likely to remain will be the offer of suitable publicly accessible land as mitigation for any loss of public green space that was much lacking in previous proposals.”

Background feature: Harrogate Spring Water expansion plans

This article was originally published by the Harrogate Advertiser on Thursday, 21st January 2021 at 5:05 pm

Harrogate borough council’s planning officers have revealed their hand over Harrogate Spring Water’s controversial expansion plans, though not in a way guaranteed to please campaigners.

With less than a week until Harrogate Borough Council meets to decide on the fate of the leading water brand’s revised proposals - which would enlarge its bottling plant and diminish the trees at Rotary Wood - officers submitted their report in favour of the application.

The agenda for the meeting recommends that the application be deferred and approved subject to a Section 106 Agreement securing the long-term management of a ‘biodiversity compensation site’ for the doomed trees at Harlow Moor Road near the Pinewoods.

Section 106 agreements, which run for at least five years, are private agreements made between local authorities and developers and can be attached to a planning permission to make a development acceptable when it would otherwise be unacceptable in planning terms.

But, despite council officials including a number of requirements and qualifications to their recommendation, campaigners and green groups - who oppose the plans - remain both concerned and frustrated.

Neil Hind, chair of the Pinewoods Conservation Group, said: “The report makes it clear that a significant number of trees will be lost and the proposed development would lead to a loss of public amenity.

“Despite the hundreds of objections and clear negative impacts, the recommendation is still to approve the plans. We welcome the confirmation that the proposed development would harm the character and appearance of the special landscape area due to the loss of trees and the incursion into a greenfield site.

Harrogate Spring Water has welcomed the council planning report and once again issued a promise to campaigners, insisting they will continue to be ‘good neighbours’.

Rob Pickering, senior spokesperson at Harrogate Spring Water, said they would be looking to work alongside the community in the future as they look to ‘enhance’ the accessibility and usability of the remaining woodland.

HBC’s planning officers delivered their recommendations in a detailed 22-page report which will be put to councillors on Tuesday where they will then discuss and make a final decision on whether to grant approval.

Proposed amendments to Harrogate Spring Water’s plans would allow a development area of 0.94ha, an increase on the 4800sqm which was given the go-ahead when the outline permission on the original expansion plans were approved in 2017.

In another alteration, Harrogate Spring Water envisage a building of up to c6800sqm, which would represent a 40% increase in floorspace on the first version of the plans.

Despite their overall conclusion, the nod from council officers comes with plenty of conditions, from hours of operation to a landscaping scheme to include 2:1 replacement tree planting on and off-site.

Among the dozens of conclusions made by the Harrogate Borough Council's planner, as itemised in a detailed 22-page report are the following.*

*quoting directly from the report

Economic Development

“The company's application is accompanied by an Economic Benefit Statement.

“This states that Harrogate Spring Water currently employs 90 people, an increase of 70% since 2015.

"It is estimated that an extension of the size originally approved would create an additional 32 jobs, taking the total to 122.

A development of the size now proposed would generate 3 production lines that, at capacity, could support 75 employees.

"This in turn would create an additional 12 posts, making an overall increase in staff of 87.

“The Statement claims a potential increase of 87 employees would generate a further £3.8m in GVA per annum. In addition, the construction phase would create 78 direct construction jobs over 18-month period and add c£740,000 to the local economy.

“The proposed development of 6,800 sqm could also generate c£130,000 in additional business rates.

“It is considered that there is a proven need for the proposed development. It is clear that the proposed extension cannot be accommodated within the existing site.

"The proposed development has the full support of the Council’s Economic Development Officer, who recognises HSWL as a ‘Strategic Employer’."

Trees

“Although still relatively young, there can be no doubt that the additional woodland that would be lost has value in terms of landscape and wildlife.

"Having been planted by voluntary groups and schools there is also a wider amenity and cultural value that cannot be ignored.

“The development now proposed would result in the potential additional loss of 0.17ha of woodland, over and above that lost under the approved extension.

“The Council’s Arboricultural Officer has objected to the proposed development based upon the potential impact to the existing woodland but he has accepted that there is the possibility of securing compensatory planting off-site.”

Biodiversity

“The Council’s Ecologist considers that Harrogate Spring Water are proposing adequate compensatory planting to demonstrate that it will be possible to meet the requirement for no net loss of biodiversity.

"However, while this site may compensate for the loss of biodiversity and potentially trees, it cannot wholly compensate for the loss of public amenity, since it is on private land.

Public amenity

"The larger extension now proposed would develop an area of the Rotary Woods which is currently used by the general public as a ‘cut through’ from Irongates Field to the Pinewoods.

"The proposal would include an element of public access across the remaining open space to the west.

"However there is no doubt that the proposed development would lead to a loss of public amenity."

What Harrogate Spring Water says: "We’ll look to work with everyone"

What groups opposed to Harrogate Spring Water's expansion plans say: "A test case for council’s carbon neutral targets"

A range of Harrogate residents and green groups remain opposed to Harrogate Spring Water’s expansion plans despite conditions for approval suggested by planners at Harrogate Borough Council.

But, they argue, the planners report contains warning signals on the plans’ environmental impact which councillors ought to heed before making their decision next week.

Harlow Greens Campaigner Rebecca Maunder said: “The most troubling aspect of the planning report is that council planners seem to take an ‘either-or’ approach to business and the environment.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, we can have good business and good environmental practice.

“The report assumes that the biodiversity and ecology of the Rotary Wood can be replaced elsewhere.

"This doesn’t take into account the difficulties local groups have had in pushing for what is required. The report gives very little weight to the council’s own environmental policies such as their Biodiversity Action Plan and carbon neutrality targets.”

Jemima Parker, chair of Zero Carbon Harrogate, said: "This is a test case of Harrogate Borough Council's understanding and commitment to its 2038 carbon neutral target.

"The Planning Officers report and recommendation for approval of the additional expansion indicates a lack of understanding of HBC's ability to use it's influence to steer local businesses to a green recovery.

"It's not business as usual, we are in a climate crisis and we need a different approach from now on.

"We are very concerned that the report disregards the significant objections from the community at a time when the success of HBC's carbon reduction strategy will depend upon community collaboration.

"It's time for the councillors on the planning committee to step up and take decisions in favour of a low carbon future."

Harrogate Civic Society said it was “troubled” by the report’s conclusions which, it says, flew in the face of the report's own findings.

It also said it disagreed with claims the economic benefit to Harrogate outweighed the harm caused by the plans.

Speaking on behalf of HCS, Angela Fahy said: "We are troubled by the fact that :

"1. Despite acknowledging (para 4.33) that the loss of trees "will harm the character and appearance of the SLA" the council planner recommends approval.

"2. Despite saying (para 4.34) re the additional buildings "visibility of the built form will be worse" due to tree loss he recommends approval.

"3. Despite saying (para 4.55) that loss of public access "would lead to loss of public amenity" , and that the compensation site being on private land is an "overall disbenefit" for public amenity, he recommends approval.

"We disagree that the claimed economic benefit to Harrogate outweighs the harm caused by the current proposals to landscape, community and amenity interests."

Harrogate Rotary Club, which instigated and financed the original planting of Rotary Wood, said it was always intended to be an extension to The Pinewoods and be a permanent asset to the community and, as such, the current plans were “unacceptable.”

Speaking on behalf of Rotary Club of Harrogate, David Hayes said: "The loss of the wood not only has huge ecological consequences but also destroys the future hopes and dreams of those that planted it.

"As an Asset of Community Value the Wood cannot be taken away without consent nor without it being offered to the community.

"Any package of compensation must offer a net gain, a net loss is unacceptable.

"The proposed compensation for the loss of Rotary Centenary Wood currently offers a net loss.

"The proposed site is on private land, it would be leased and as such is not a permanent site; it has no public access which is a loss of amenity and it is of insufficient size to plant two trees for every one lost at a reasonable density in order to avoid failure from overcrowding."