Ripon City Council withdraws support for cathedral development
Last updated Dec 12, 2023

Ripon Cathedral’s plans for a £6 million annex on public open space to the north of the ancient grade I listed building have suffered a significant setback.

The city council, which a year ago voted to ‘support the general principle’ of the proposed development featuring a song school, refectory, shop, toilets and storage space, last night reversed that decision with a 4-3 vote against the scheme.

The ‘no’ vote, proposed by former Mayor of Ripon Councillor Eamon Parkin and seconded by Cllr Jackie Crozier, came at a full council meeting at which 10 members of the public voiced objections to the cathedral’s plans and nobody spoke in favour.

Loss of a veteran beech and other mature trees, along with concerns about the impact of the proposed development on hospitality and other businesses in the city, were the two main issues that prompted the council to withdraw its support and lodge an objection with North Yorkshire Council.

City councillors Andrew Williams and Barbara Brodigan, who sit on North Yorkshire Council’s Skipton and Ripon planning committee which, in the New Year will have the final say on the application, did not take part in the debate or vote. They absented themselves from the meeting after listening to the points raised by members of the public

Save the trees campaigners pictured near the veteran beech during last month’s peaceful protest at Minster Gardens.

Among the speakers was Ripon resident Jenni Holman, who launched a petition in April aimed at saving the veteran beech and 10 other trees, which will be felled if the cathedral’s application is approved.

She told the meeting:

“The petition has gathered more than 2,000 signatures, with more coming each day.

“Those who have signed it do not object to the cathedral having the facilities that it needs to prosper, we are simply saying that Minster Gardens, which is a public park and oasis of green in the city, is the wrong place for this development.”

Kevin Hill, who co-owns and runs the Karma clothing and gift shop in Kirkgate, said:

“I came to a meeting here in February, where councillors voted to call for a retail impact assessment to be carried out, to find out how the annex development with its refectory and shop would affect local businesses.

“At the meeting we were told by the cathedral that there was no need for businesses to have any anxiety as their scheme would be beneficial to all of the city because of the additional footfall that would be generated.

“Months later and with no impact assessment carried out, traders found that the cathedral’s own design and access document said, for the cathedral refectory to be financially viable, it needs to be large enough to accommodate coach parties and very close to the cathedral, to ‘prevent visitors from drifting away from the cathedral and using various cafes in the city'”

Mr Hill added:

“So in effect, their stated strategy is to keep all the business for themselves and starve other cafes in the city. Quite frankly, this is a disgrace.”

The cathedral’s case

Though nobody at last night’s meeting spoke in support of the annex application, the cathedral has previously stated its case through a number of channels, including last December’s pre-application briefing for the city council; at its annual review meeting in September at the cathedral and through the  Ripon Cathedral Renewed pamphlet, 

With 100,000 visitors through its doors during 2022,  the cathedral lacks both an ability to offer its own hospitality facilities and provide accessible toilets for people with limited mobility.

Dean John Dobson and the cathedral chapter have emphasised an urgent need for action.

The cathedral has stated that there are exceptional reasons for felling the trees and in the Ripon Cathedral pamphlet produced in support of its planning application, said:

“All other potential locations and solutions have been considered over many years and have proven to be undeliverable.”

In compensation for the loss of the 11 trees, a new woodland area with 21 trees will be created within the vicinity of the cathedral and the annex. Dean John has also stated that 300 native trees will be planted on land near Studley.

The Stray Ferret will be publishing a further story including more views expressed at last night’s meeting and subsequently. The cathedral and chapter will have the opportunity to respond to the council’s decision.

Main image: This cgi provides an aerial perspective showing the proposed annex development. Picture: Ripon Cathedral Renewed