Ripon Civic Society raises concerns about £8m cathedral development
Last updated Feb 19, 2024
The Minster Gardens site in Ripon

The validity of the ongoing consultation on Ripon Cathedral’s controversial annexe plans has come under further scrutiny.

A complaint about the way in which the programme of drop-in sessions at the cathedral are being run has been sent to North Yorkshire planners by ‘save our trees’ campaigners, while Ripon Civic Society launched its bid to save Kirkgate Park — the traditional name for the Minster Gardens site where the cathedral has plans to build an 11,840 sq ft annexe.

The proposed two-storey building, which would be larger than the M&S Foodhall at the St Michael’s Retail Park on Rotary Way, would accommodate an 80-seat refectory and gift shop on the ground floor and a song school for the cathedral’s nationally-acclaimed choristers on the upper floor.

The building would include a Changing Places toilet for people with limited mobility and much-needed additional storage space.

This aerial cgi shows the proposed annexe between the Courthouse Museum to the right and the Old Deanery restaurant. Image Ripon Cathedral Renewed.

An estimated 100,000 people visit the grade one listed building each year and the cathedral predicts the development will bring up to 30,000 additional visitors.

While tree campaigners, some traders and Ripon Civic Society support in principle the cathedral’s attempt to add additional facilities, they have consistently argued that Minster Gardens is the wrong location for a development of the size and scale that is proposed in the current planning application,

Open Letter from Ripon Civic Society

In an open letter sent on Sunday  to the Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd John Dobson, David Winpenny, co-chair of the society said:

“We note that your series of ‘consultations’ has begun, but we are disappointed to see that the information put out on behalf of the cathedral suggests that, far from rethinking the entire location of the building, there will be only minor adjustments, if any.”

The letter said the civic society encouraged good new building and the cathedral had been a recipient of its awards but it added:

“We have been particularly concerned about the effect of a large new structure on the park, which would severely mar the open space and compromise the setting of the surrounding listed buildings – the Old Deanery, the Courthouse, the Old Courthouse and the cathedral itself.”

To safeguard the public open space that currently belongs to North Yorkshire Council, the society has published the leaflet Ripon’s Kirkgate Park An Appreciation, which sets out the historical significance of the parkland area, whose name over two centuries has also included Courthouse Gardens, Museum Gardens and latterly Minster Gardens.

The veteran beech (foreground) is one of 11 mature trees that would be felled.

The signatories of the letter to Gerard Walsh all took part in the protest at Minster Gardens on November 25.

Local resident and environmental journalist Brian McHugh, who has sought the precise dimensions of the annexe and details about the compensatory planting of 300 trees in return for the 11 that face being felled on Minster Gardens, claimed the drop-in events “were farcical and no more than a cosmetic ‘tick box’ exercise”. He added:

“By no stretch of the imagination can they be considered as a valid or acceptable public consultation and this prompted me and six fellow campaigners, who have also attended the events to send an open letter to North Yorkshire Council planning officer Gerard Walsh, who is handling the planning application.

“We all have major doubts about the veracity of responses received to legitimate questions that we asked and that prompted us to send an open letter to Mr Walsh.”

‘End this sham of a consultation’

The letter urges Mr Walsh to “intervene to end this sham of a ‘public consultation’, which consists of: no significant changes to the original submission; newly formatted leaflets with no new information; 70% of ‘drop ins’ during the working day and a lack of record keeping from cathedral staff of comments and suggestions by the public”.

It added questions on key issues such as where the 300 trees will be planted as compensation had received conflicting responses and was now being treated as a private matter between the landowner and the cathedral. The letter added:

“As this ‘off-site planting’ is supposed to be compensation to the people of Ripon for the trees felled at Minster Gardens, it is not a ‘private matter’, but very much a matter of public interest. This is a material consideration to the proposal.

“We urge you to use your powers to intervene and bring this sham of a proposal to a halt before further embarrassment is caused to the city of Ripon.”

Planned public meeting 

Heritage specialist Andy Bates has organised a meeting on the upper floor of So! Bar at Old Market Place Ripon on Thursday to set-up a separate community consultation about the annexe application, away from the cathedral.

The meeting from 7pm to 9pm will be open to all and Mr Bates has said in posts on social media:

“Our first meeting needs to be one in which we plan how to conduct a community consultation about the proposed cathedral annexe and the proposed destruction of the trees. This consultation will be put together by the people of Ripon.

“The Dean and Chapter, and all other parties, will be invited when that consultation meeting comes to pass. This, I hope, will reclaim control of the narrative from the cathedral, and will allow all people who are involved to find and speak with their own voices; voices which might otherwise not be heard; voices which might otherwise actually be silenced.”

The Stray Ferret asked the Ripon Cathedral Renewed Comms team to respond to the claims made but has not received a response.

Main image:: Some of the trees under threat in Minster Gardens