Harrogate Spring Water plans reignite debate on trees and plastic
Last updated Nov 25, 2023
Trees could be felled to sell more plastic bottles.

After more than a year of silence, Harrogate Spring Water has revived plans to expand its bottling plant on the edge of town.

Expansion would enable the company, which sells just over 100 million litres of bottled water a year, to grow and would create 50 jobs.

But to achieve this, it would fell 450 trees alongside the company’s headquarters on Harlow Moor Road to create extra space.

Felling trees is always an emotive subject. The fact that they were planted by schoolchildren concerned about climate change and the land will be used to produce more plastic bottles further heightens feelings.

Views on both sides will be aired this week.

Today (Sunday, November 26), the campaign group Save Rotary Wood – Again is holding a meeting at the Friends Meeting House in Harrogate to consider its next moves.

On Thursday, November 30, Harrogate Spring Water, which is part of French multinational Danone, will hold a public consultation event at the Crown Hotel in Harrogate.

Protestors are unlikely to accept the loss of trees quietly.

The most prominent activist, Sarah Gibbs, stood for hours in a tree costume outside Harrogate Borough Council’s headquarters as part of the protests the last time the issue came before councillors in January 2021.

Sarah Gibbs

Activist Sarah Gibbs

On that occasion, councillors rejected Harrogate Spring Water’s expansion plans after a debate that made national headlines and saw ex-Countryfile presenter Julia Bradbury join campaigners in opposing the move.

The company’s message this time is clear — it has listened and is engaging more and doing more to mitigate the loss of trees.

Last time, the woodland offered as compensation wasn’t accessible to the public.

This time, it has a contractual agreement with a landowner to buy a two-acre site and plant 1,200 trees if the application is approved. The site would be open to anyone.

Richard Hall, managing director of Harrogate Spring Water, said it also has an agreement with a local charity “that doesn’t want to be named” to plant another 1,500 trees in a “local and accessible site”.

This means the trees lost will be replaced either on a 3 to 1 ratio or 6 to 1 ratio and result in an increase in biodiversity levels, says the company.

The latest plans for the site.

It took Harrogate Spring Water more than a year since an online consultation last year to publicise its latest proposals.

Asked why it took so long, Mr Hall said it had listened to feedback then considered options and negotiated over the land —  which he says “multiple people own it through a family”. Finally, it worked up the plans.

He added:

“Agreements regarding land do take quite a lot of time.”

He won’t reveal the sum but says the value of the land, on which saplings would be planted, is a “significant part of the investment”.

Mr Hall said:

“We are starting to show we are listening to the community and responding to what the community says.”

He cites talks with Pinewoods Conservation Group as further evidence of this.

“We have had detailed discussions about the type of path, the route, the usage, how the paths would join up with other footpaths, That’s the sort of detail we are wanting to discuss with the community.”

Harrogate Spring Water’s headquarters on Harlow Moor Road.

Harrogate Spring Water made a loss during covid but has recovered strongly and is eager to expand.

It already has outline planning permission, which means the principle of development has been established. It is now preparing a reserved matters planning application, which would agree the details.

Mr Hall hopes the application will go before councillors in February. Even if it is approved, work is unlikely to start for two or three years. But he says it will be good for the company and the town.

“We are a local business that is building the name of Harrogate.

“We think we are an asset to the community but also want to be seen as responsible.

“There was some concern about the trees being lost. And we think we’ve addressed that.”

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But some people will never believe the loss of a 25-year-old woodland can ever be mitigated, or trust a multinational that employs 100,000 people worldwide, including 80 at Harrogate.

What will the company do if people take direct action if the trees are due to be felled?

“There will always be some objectors and we will have to see at the time what the nature of that objection is.”

After a lengthy hiatus, the debate is about to ramp up again.