No 2: Ripon Cathedral planning application – are you for or against?
Last updated Dec 31, 2023

In this article, which is part of a series on the 12 stories in the Harrogate district that shaped 2023, we look at Ripon Cathedral’s controversial planning application for a £6 million development.

What a difference a year makes for Ripon Cathedral.

In 2022, the iconic grade I listed building was both the focus point and venue for numerous events to celebrate the 1,350th anniversary of its foundation.

Its crypt dating back to 672 AD means that Wilfrid’s creation contains the oldest surviving structure of any cathedral in England.

In June 2022, the Church of St Peter and St Wilfrid, hosted North Yorkshire’s civic service of celebration for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and just 13 weeks later, was a fitting place for members of the community to grieve Her Late Majesty’s death.

The Dean of Ripon the Very Revd John Dobson, greeted visitors and civic guests who attended the Platinum Jubilee service for North Yorkshire held at the cathedral

At Easter 1985, Queen Elizabeth distributed Maundy money to Ripon citizens and her visit was remembered in fine style 37 years later as the cathedral celebrated its Royal connection.

Visitor figures for the ‘Cathedral of the Dales’ rose to a record 100,000 and included in that number were regular churchgoers, tourists, pilgrims and people who came to worship and/or attend events ranging from arts displays and exhibitions, to classical concerts, lectures and even a silent disco.

After such a successful year, in which the cathedral was undeniably the city’s top attraction, all it needed to do to bring more people through its doors, was to provide them with the 21st century facilities that the building lacks.

That would see the end of portable toilets on its piazza and remove the need to hire outside caterers for its hospitality events.

The proposed annex building plan includes a Changing Places toilet to increase accessibility to the cathedral for people with limited mobility. The public toilets currently on Minster Gardens (pictured above) would be demolished.

What happened next?

Last December, the Dean and Chapter’s plans to extend and enhance facilities for users of the building, were submitted nine days before Christmas to the then Harrogate Borough Council.

Since being open to public scrutiny in January, when the application was validated, the annex plan has been the subject of heated debate and acrimonious claims and counter claims on social media.

Among the hundreds of supporting and explanatory documents that could be seen on the Council planning portal, was details of a business  plan centred on an 80-seat refectory, large enough to cater for visitors arriving in coach parties throughout the day.

The Cathedral Choir, with director of Music Dr Ronny Krippner (pictured left), is among the best in the country

Included in the proposed two-storey 1,000 square metres annex is a song school for the cathedral’s top-class choristers, a gift shop, toilets, and additional storage space for chairs and other equipment,

The planning application documents, including letters of support and objection could be found from January 20 on the Harrogate Borough Council planning portal, which subsequently became the North Yorkshire Council portal in April, when Harrogate council was abolished and subsumed into the new unitary authority.

The veteran beech has become the emblem of the protestors’ campaign

The Stray Ferret was first to report that, to make way for the annex, 11 mature trees, including a beech with veteran status, would need to be felled.

The objections begin

Among the early objectors to the scheme, were the planning authority’s own senior officers, including the ecologist and arboriculturist, who pointed out that removal of a veteran tree considered to be ‘irreplaceable’ should be resisted and planning permission only allowed if no other options are open to the applicant.

Objections from Statutory consultees the Woodland Trust and the Yorkshire Gardens Trust followed, but then came a letter of support from Historic England – the government’s expert  adviser on the historic environment.

Its conclusion on the suitability of the proposed siting of the  building, was at odds with the response from local heritage watchdog, Ripon Civic Society.

Following the cathedral’s pre-application presentation to Ripon City Council in December 2022, ten of its 12 members voted to support the ‘general principle’ of the plan, while saying it would comment further on the proposal, once detailed plans had been seen.

In February, owners of hospitality businesses in Kirkgate, attended a city council meeting to tell members that the proposed refectory would ‘funnel’ trade away from them and straight into the annex building.

The cathedral, has claimed from the outset that an uplift of up to 50% more footfall generated by the new development would be beneficial for all of the city’s businesses.

The Dean, who was at the council meeting, along with members of the cathedral chapter, told traders that they had no reason for ‘anxiety’ but a paragraph in the design and access document prepared on behalf of the cathedral said, in black and white:

“Cathedral Refectory: for this to be a financially viable part of the cathedral business plan it needs to be a certain size, to accommodate a coach party, and be very close to the cathedral. This is required to prevent visitors from drifting away from the cathedral and using the various cafés in the city.”

Through the words of the cathedral’s own adviser, the fears of traders were confirmed as being correct and, along with the threat of lost trees, a two-pronged campaign opposing the annex plans gained momentum.

Traders and tree campaigners raise objections

Since April, Ripon resident Jenni Holman, has been raising a petition to save the trees and green space of Minster Gardens.

Her paper petition, supplied in 20 tranches to North Yorkshire planners had, before the Christmas holiday, collected 2078 signatures including new signatories who gathered with dozens of fellow objectors, in a peaceful protest under the bough of the beech that has become the emblem of their campaign.

Ripon City Council’s withdraws support

The growing number of protestors with fears for trade and trees, was not lost on Ripon City Council and at its December meeting, members voted narrowly by 4 votes to 3 to withdraw support for the annex plan and raise an objection to it.  The move came as a surprise to the Cathedral. 

The peaceful protest took place by the veteran beech

The ‘save our trees’ campaign and November 25 protest, which has received support from the Woodland Trust, the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity, attracted wide media coverage, including items broadcast by Yorkshire’s Calendar News and Tyne Tees news and BBC Radio North Yorkshire.

A Christmas break

In the season of goodwill on earth and peace to all men, women and children, the cathedral and its burgeoning choir, painstakingly built by its highly-accomplished director of music, Dr Ronny Krippner, has been at the centre of much-loved and very well-attended traditional Christmas services.

But come the New Year, when those in favour and opposed to the planning application have taken down their festival decorations, the battle for hearts and minds will rage on – much of it through posts on social media.

The planning application will be considered by the Skipton and Ripon Constituency Planning Committee at a meeting to be held in Ripon, because of the strong local interest in it.

With the committee’s next meeting due to be held in Skipton on January 16, the earliest date for consideration of the cathedral’s application would be February.

Main image: An aerial cgi, showing where the annex would sit in relation to the cathedral: Picture Ripon Cathedral Renewed.

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