Campaigners take their ‘save our trees’ plea to Ripon city centre
Mar 30, 2024

As decision day for the controversial Ripon Cathedral annexe planning application approaches, more than 40 ‘Save our Trees’ campaigners held a peaceful protest march through the city today (Saturday)

The march, attended by some of the 2,300 people who have signed the petition raised by Ripon resident and campaigner Jenni Holman, started at 12 noon on Minster Gardens, where 11 mature trees, including a 200-year-old beech of veteran status, are threatened by the proposed development on the green open space.

The park, which is within the Ripon Conservation area, is  currently owned and maintained by North Yorkshire Council.

The cathedral’s £8 million plan is for a two-storey standalone building, that would include an 80-seat refectory, gift shop, song school, accessible toilets and additional storage space.

Ms Holman, told the Stray Ferret:

“We reiterate, as we have done throughout our year-long campaign, that we want the cathedral to thrive and have the facilities that it needs.

“However, the proposed location of the annexe on a precious green open space that has been enjoyed by the people of Ripon and visitors to the city for two centuries, is not acceptable and we cannot support an application that involves cutting down healthy trees and the loss of green space.”

This computer generated image shows the proposed annexe located on the gardens to the north of the cathedral. Picture Ripon Cathedral Renewed

The dean and chapter have previously said that in compensation for the lost trees, it will plant 21 in the vicinity of the cathedral and a further 300 on land ‘near Studley’ but campaigner Brian McHugh, who has raised concerns about this aspect of the proposed development, said:

“The mitigation strategy of the off site planting 4 miles outside Ripon, is a central pillar to the Cathedral’s argument. And it needs to be a strategy that can be scrutinised and evaluated by the planning committee in making their decision. Despite publicly repeating 300 trees in their literature, the Cathedral now say that this ‘is a private matter between the Cathedral and the landowner.

“How can the planning committee ensure that the mitigation strategy meets the objectives, if they are being denied access to the agreement between the parties?”

The protestors handed out leaflets to shoppers and visitors, as they marched from Minster Gardens along Kirkgate and on to Market Square

Mr McHugh, added:

“We do not want Ripon to become a city synonymous with tree-felling. We do not want Ripon to join the list of Sheffield, Plymouth, Devon, Windermere or Sycamore Gap, where the destruction of nature has hit national news headlines.”

Woodland Trust Supports campaign

Statutory consultee The Woodland Trust has formally objected to the planning application, along with other consultees  Ripon City Council and Ripon Civic Society.

,Jack Taylor, the trust’s lead campaigner for woods under threat, said in a statement:

“The proposed loss of trees within Ripon Cathedral’s Minster Gardens is of grave concern to the Woodland Trust. An irreplaceable veteran beech tree and a number of mature and notable trees would be lost to development on this site.

“Such trees play a vital role in the urban environment, enhancing aesthetic appeal, acting as carbon sinks, providing shade, improving air quality, and supporting local biodiversity. Their loss not only alters the landscape but also has far-reaching environmental and social implications.”

He added:

“The loss of veteran, notable and mature trees is entirely unacceptable and contrary to national planning policies designed to protect these important habitats. We ask that the developers work with North Yorkshire  Council and the local community to safeguard these magnificent urban trees and ensure that Ripon’s Minster Gardens remain vibrant, resilient, and ecologically rich.”

The campaigners stood outside the town hall to draw attention to the fact that Ripon City Council objects to the annexe plan.

The cathedral’s consultation

On Thursday,  the cathedral, whose plans are supported by Historic England, the cathedral’s independent fabric advisory committee, the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England and Ripon Together, held the last of 22 drop-in sessions as part of a public consultation programme which began in February.

The programme was launched after the Cathedral announced that it had sought and received permission from North Yorkshire Council to pause the annexe planning application for three months.

Prior to the first drop-in session, a spokesperson for Dean John Dobson and the cathedral chapter, said:

“It is hoped that a pause in the planning application to allow for additional consultation will prompt a genuine exchange of views, the sharing of informed ideas and the constructive discussion of concerns raised.”

The Dean of Ripon

The Dean of Ripon the Very Revd John Dobson

In a subsequent interview with the dean published by the Stray Ferret on March 3, he said:

“The purpose of the pause — and it may be a vain attempt — is an attempt on our part to enable people to hear the facts as we in the cathedral perceive them, i.e. these are the actual proposals, this is where we are proposing to build, these are the trees that would be affected by it, this would be the mitigation plan.

“Many people think this is a fantastic scheme that would enhance the cathedral, that would enhance what could be a cathedral quarter and would enhance the city. It would have economic benefits and it would have an aesthetic benefit. Many people believe that.”

Dean John, added:

“We genuinely want to hear what people think. If people of Ripon are really against this, well, say so. But actually, are they? I’m not convinced we know whether they are or not. Many haven’t engaged with the precise proposal.”

“But we haven’t fallen out. It’s perfectly reasonable for people to take a contrary view. What isn’t reasonable is for people to just make things up to create an alternative narrative. That I think is hugely disappointing and detrimental.”

“Well, I’m hopeful. It seems to me the arguments are compelling; the benefits are overwhelming. But I do accept some people are very unhappy about it. The question is: how many, and why, and how we address that. But we cannot carry on just looking at more and more options.”

The Stray Ferret approached the cathedral regarding views expressed by Mr McHugh about the tree mitigation strategy, but no response was received at the time of publication.

Main image: ‘Save our trees’ campaigners pictured on Minster Gardens at lunchtime today, before marching to the city centre.

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