Harrogate Spring Water denies claims it could expand again
Last updated Apr 17, 2024
Richard Hall (second from left) and Nick Pleasant (third from left) with colleagues at the meeting.

Harrogate Spring Water denied claims it could expand again at a feisty public meeting this week.

Managing director Richard Hall and colleagues were quizzed for over an hour at Pinewoods Conservation Group‘s annual general meeting.

The company wants to expand its bottling plant, which would involve felling about 450 trees in a section of the Pinewoods known as Rotary Wood.

As part of the ecological mitigation strategy, it has agreed to buy two acres of land from an unnamed individual to create a publicly accessible wood with 1,200 trees — if the scheme is approved.

But this has sparked fears Harrogate Spring Water, which is part of French multinational Danone, could seek to expand again on its newly acquired land.

Mr Hall was asked if the company would consider gifting the land to the community as a gesture of goodwill and to prove it had no further expansion ambitions.

He said the land was “an expensive asset we have bought on behalf of the community” and it was “not considering at the moment” to hand over ownership.

But he added:

“We have no plans to expand the factory further. This is not a mass market brand — it’s a premium niche product.”

Sarah Gibbs, who is leading the Save Rotary Wood campaign, told the meeting Harrogate Spring Water had made a similar pledge many years ago before it was bought by Danone.

Arnold Warneken, who represents Ouseburn for the Green Party on North Yorkshire Council, said the sum involved would be “insignificant” for a company the size of Danone.

Wednesday’s meeting

An audience member called Terry Byrne added:

“Unless you donate that two acres we will have the sword of Damocles over our heads. I don’t see how Danone, with its size, is not capable of doing that.”

No green roof 

The company was also under fire at the meeting on Wednesday (March 20) for failing to include a green ‘living roof’ on the proposed new building, which has been criticised for its “industrial” appearance by Harrogate Civic Society.

Nick Pleasant, the planning consultant from Stantec, said there were “certain challenges around delivering a green roof”, including the weight of the extra load.

The proposed extension building.

He added the company had listened to concerns and would produce a “fully compliant ecological mitigation plan”.

This includes working with an unnamed charity to plant another 1,500 trees around Harrogate, which along with the new woodland would mean any trees lost will be replaced on a 6:1 ratio. Harrogate Spring Water has also said the scheme will create 50 jobs plus 20 more during construction.

However, Mr Pleasant said a biodiversity report wasn’t a formal requirement at this stage and the company was “unlikely” to produce one.

Attendees also raised concerns about water extraction and the impact of extra lorries using the highways around Harlow Moor Road in Harrogate while Shan Oakes, the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said it was simply “unethical” to sell water in plastic bottles.

Tom Gordon, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Harrogate and Knaresborough who has spoken against the scheme, questioned why Harrogate Spring Water could not go “above the bare minimum” by only buying two acres of land for a woodland — the same amount of land its new building will require.

Pinewoods Conservation Group chair Neil Hind

Jemima Parker, chair of Zero Carbon Harrogate, asked what Harrogate Spring Water would do with the income from the timber of felled trees.

Mr Hall said:

“I can assure you that we have no intention of profiting from the wood.”

The issue is unlikely to come before North Yorkshire Council’s planning committee anytime soon.

Public consultation has been extended and another 21-day consultation is expected after Harrogate Spring Water publishes further documents after North Yorkshire Council’s arboricultural officer Alan Gilleard said he was “not in a position to support” the plans as they stood.

Pinewoods Conservation Group chair Neil Hind concluded the meeting by saying he thought the planning application might not be determined until at least late summer.

Even that is unlikely to be the end of the matter because if approval is granted, the council must then decide whether to sell or lease the land in Rotary Wood to Harrogate Spring Water.

Harrogate Spring Water received outline planning permission for the scheme in 2017, which remains valid. The current reserved matters stage deals with its appearance, size and landscaping. Councillors rejected a previous reserved matters application in 2021,

You can view planning documents and comment on the application by visiting the council’s planning portal here and typing in reference number 20/01539/REMMAJ where it says ‘enter a keyword’.

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