With a decision still to be taken on one of the most controversial planning applications in the city’s history, it appears Ripon Cathedral has still not found a solution that would not involve the loss of 11 trees.
The cathedral wants to build a two-storey standalone annexe on Minster Gardens with an 80-seat refectory, gift shop, song school, additional storage space and new accessible toilets. But 2,100 people have signed a petition opposing the development because of the loss of trees.
The cathedral announced last month it had paused the planning application for further consultation.
Last week it revealed some details about the consultation, which will include drop-in sessions at the cathedral and ‘a series of stakeholder engagement sessions during February and March where groups will be invited to meet with us and discuss the plans’.
But there appears little sign of a rethink on the contentious issue of removing the trees. The Stray Ferret has seen a response to an enquiry from a Ripon resident who asked what would happen to the 200-year-old veteran beech and 10 more mature trees, if North Yorkshire Council approves the annexe planning application as it currently stands.
A spokesperson from the newly-created Ripon Cathedral Renewed comms group replied:
“Despite a huge amount of assessment with external experts and regulatory bodies, we have not yet found a solution that does not involve removing the 11 trees.
“If together with the city we can identify areas for creative thinking with possible practical amendments to the plans, while acknowledging the overall needs, then we are open to them.”
The spokesperson recommended that the resident, who wished to remain anonymous, should look on social media for details about additional consultations which will be taking place over the next two months and added:
“We would strongly encourage you to come to one of the sessions soon to be announced so you can discuss your concerns with us in person. These will be both in the cathedral and in the city centre.”
Questions put to the Ripon Cathedral Renewed comms group
On Friday, the Stray Ferret approached the cathedral to seek clarification about the proposed programme of consultation and asked the following questions:
- During the planning application pause, is the cathedral actively looking for alternative locations for the proposed annexe?
- Is it still the intention to proceed with the current proposal and fell trees, including the veteran beech?
- In view of the huge public interest and views already expressed both for and against the planning application, apart from the cathedral, which city centre location is being considered for the public consultation?
- Will new or revised plans be presented for attendees at the consultation events to see?
The cathedral’s response
In a brief email response to our questions, a spokesperson from the Ripon Cathedral Renewed comms group said:
“Current information regarding this period of further consultation is available on our website and Facebook page. We will share further details as soon as they are confirmed.”
The urgent need for 21st century facilities
The cathedral wants to provide its 100,000 plus annual visitors, who include churchgoers, pilgrims, tourists, concert and exhibition attendees, with the same 21st century facilities that are enjoyed by other cathedrals, minsters and large churches across the UK.
It is currently unable to do so because of lack of space within the cathedral.
Details of its plans for the development on Minster Gardens, a public open green space currently in the ownership of North Yorkshire Council, can be found here.
Ripon City Council withdraws support
In December Ripon City Council voted narrowly to withdraw the ‘in principle’ support it had given to the cathedral’s proposed plans in February 2023,
Last month the leader of the council, Andrew Williams, who did not take part in the city council debate or vote on the plans because he is a member of the North Yorkshire Skjpton and Ripon planning committee that will determine the application, met with the dean to discuss a proposed pause for the planning application.
This would give the opportunity for further public consultation and meetings with planners to see if a solution could be found to the concerns raised,
At the time that this was announced, a statement issued on behalf of the dean and chapter said:
“During this period, there will be opportunities for additional consultation, where we will once again be able to listen to comments and concerns from the people of Ripon and the region in relation to the proposed new building. We will also continue to work constructively with the planners and other key stakeholders.
“We hope that this will allow us to move forward in a way that considers people’s genuine concerns and takes in the opinions of stakeholders, whilst allowing us to deliver the amenities that the cathedral so desperately needs along with the benefits the building will bring to the city and region.”
What do campaigners say?
The concerns of campaigners fighting to save the trees on Minster Gardens remain.
Jenni Holman, who started a paper-based petition in April calling for the trees and green space at Minster Gardens to be saved from development, has gathered more than 2,100 signatures. The petition has been supplied in batches to North Yorkshire planners.
“I initially welcomed the decision of the dean and chapter to pause the planning application to build a large annexe on Minster Gardens.
“I understood that this was to enable them to reach some compromise regarding the park and the loss of the trees. However, it has become increasingly clear that this doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Main image: The fight to save trees on Minster Gardens goes on.