Figures reveal exactly how much money council has received from Harrogate Spring Water
Last updated Oct 4, 2022

Harrogate Borough Council has received almost £500,000 from Harrogate Spring Water since 2017 as a share of the company’s annual turnover, new figures reveal.

The council owns the land where the company is based on Harlow Moor Road and receives £13,000 a year in ground rent.

Harrogate Spring Water also has to pay a percentage of annual turnover to the council. This is known as turnover rent.

The turnover rent agreement was drawn up in the early 2000s when the council granted planning permission to build a bottling plant on land leased to the company.

However, the figure has never been made public.

Two-year battle

For almost two years, the Stray Ferret has tried to find out exactly how much the council benefits from the success of the Danone-owned company.

We first asked the question to HBC in a freedom of information request in January 2021, almost two years ago.

But the council refused to tell us. It said:

“This information is deemed to be of commercial value and, if disclosed, may impact on the council’s ability to negotiate and harm its legitimate interests, putting it in a commercially disadvantageous situation.”

We then requested that HBC undertake an internal review of this decision.

However, Joanne Barclay, acting chief solicitor at HBC, came to the same conclusion, adding “confidence may be eroded if commercial rents were to be disclosed”.

In summer 2021, we submitted a complaint about the council’s decision not to disclose the sum to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

ICO is an independent government body that promotes openness within public bodies.

After a long delay due to a backlog, it investigated HBC’s refusal and asked the council to look again at the Stray Ferret’s question. It has now decided to publish the figures for the last five years.

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Finally publishing the figures

Earlier this year, the BBC’s Local Democracy Service revealed that HBC receives 0.5% of the company’s annual turnover.

It estimated the council received £853,033 over an 18-year period, however, new information suggests that is likely to be a higher figure.

Since 2017, HBC has received £495,000.

Company accounts published on Friday revealed turnover has returned to pre-covid levels after dipping significantly due to the pandemic.

Each year, the council has received the following sum from Harrogate Spring Water in turnover rent:

2017  – £92,811.87

2018  – £138,026.18

2019  – £91,153.15

2020  – £152,332.02

2021  – £21,995.79

Global brand

Harrogate Borough Council and Harrogate Spring Water’s histories are intertwined.

Water has been bottled in Harrogate for centuries but in the early 1990s Harrogate Spa Water, as the company was previously known, was selling just 1,000 bottles of water a year.

The company’s fortunes changed in the late 1990s when HBC, run then by the Liberal Democrats, identified an opportunity to explore water resources at the current site on Harlow Moor Road.

Harrogate Spring Water has since gone from strength to strength to become a global brand.

The relationship between the two organisations has come into focus due to Harrogate Spring Water’s attempts to expand its bottling plant into Rotary Wood.

The council has always maintained that its status as planning authority and Harrogate Spring Water’s landlord are separate.

A Harrogate Borough Council spokesperson said:

“We have had a base rent and turnover rent agreement in place with Harrogate Spring Water Ltd since 2002.

“As with all of our rental agreements, the money generated is used to help deliver valuable front-line services across the Harrogate district.”