Campaigners join forces in battle to save Rotary Wood from Harrogate Spring Water expansion plans

Campaign groups say they are fighting for the future integrity of one of Harrogate’s most cherished wooded beauty spots as the long-running battle over Harrogate Spring Water’ expansion plans rages on.

Thursday, 14th January 2021, 5:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th January 2021, 5:34 pm

Ecological surveys have taken place and discussions are still ongoing but, amid the complexities of this famous brand’s plans to create room for its bottling plant to grow in the Harlow Hill area near the Pinewoods, campaigners feel there is one simple problem.

Harrogate Spring Water, they say, is not planning to do enough to replace the loss of a substantial number of trees at Rotary Wood planted by Harrogate Rotary Club between 2005 and 2010.

Neil Hind of the Pinewoods Conservation Group is one of the many objectors who have called on Harrogate Spring Water to change their expansion plans.

What’s more the new trees which Harrogate Spring Water propose to plant are too far away from the site and crucially, they argue will not be accessible to the public.

The end result would fly in the face of environmental goals, as well as fragmenting and undermining the character of the woodlands.

The fears of groups such as Pinewoods Conservation Group, Harrogate Civic Society, Zero Carbon Harrogate, Harrogate and District Green Party and Harrogate Rotary Club turned to fury last week after they read this newspaper’s special report giving the company the chance to explain how they saw the situation in their own words.

Neil Hind, chair of the Pinewoods Conservation Group, said if the current plans were approved, in ten years’ time the woods are likely to be much smaller and more disjointed, putting, he adds, the wildlife - including protective species - at substantial risk.

He said: “There is constant pressure on The Pinewoods from development hence the approved application to grant the entire footprint of the woods, including the Rotary Wood section, as an “asset of community value” six years ago.

“These new plans will see the majority of that disappear with a larger extension having a major impact on wildlife in the area.”

Community groups such as PCG are still in talks with Harrogate Spring Water and its new owners Danone, the multi-national food and drink corporation behind Evian.

Although happy to carry on the current discussions, campaigners’ concerns have grown since the original ecological planning conditions were put in place in May 2017 when Harrogate Spring Water first obtained outline planning permission.

The change of ownership from being a family-owned firm and the submission of revised plans increasing the size of the development has caused alarm.

Mr Hind said: “Although the original plans were not supported (by us), they did leave an important ecological green corridor between the main section of the Pinewoods to Irongate Field and Birk Crag.

“I suspect many people had some faith that Danone would find suitable land to offer for mitigation. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and there could be up to a four-acre loss of public accessible woodland.”

Having commissioned its own Ecology Report, Pinewoods Conservation Group argues Harrogate Spring Water’s mitigation plans fail to meet the requirements of Harrogate council’s Tree Strategy Action Plan for the district which specifies a minimum of ‘2-for-1’ replacement for lost trees in the distict.

Mr Hind said: “The company’s planning paperwork states that there could be a 4.52% net gain but our own ecologists have challenged this report. The paperwork submitted by Danone shows most of the area known as Rotary Wood could be subject to development. This is calculated at around 4.64 acres with 3.7 acres lost which amounts to a loss of 80%.”

Last week’s Harrogate Advertiser article outlining Harrogate Spring Water’s list of environmental plans has been fiercely challenged by campaigners who say the details do not back up the company’s headline arguments.

To the people who first planted the trees at Rotary Wood, the situation is about more than a matter of policies or a dispute over hectares.

Harrogate Rotary Club firmly believes that any removal of the 15-year-old Rotary Wood should be fully replaced.

The Rotary Club’s president Alistair Ratcliffe says the wood is a lot more than simply a space that thousands of people have enjoyed over the years. He said: “It epitomises Rotary’s ongoing service to the community and the environment. Above all, the hopes, dreams and labours of those who planted it for future generations would be destroyed.”

The ultimate decision over the future of Harrogate Spring Water and Rotary Wood will lie with Harrogate Borough Council. As discussions between Harrogate Spring Water and campaigners continue, previously scheduled dates for a final planning decision have come and gone.

A decision, however must be made soon and the future of Rotary Wood decided once and for all.

Loss of ‘carbon capture’ a key issue

Non-partisan pressure group Zero Carbon Harrogate objected to Harrogate Spring Water’s original application in 2017, it says, because of the loss of carbon captured by felling Rotary Wood.

It argues that Rotary Woodland, owned by Harrogate Borough Council, contributes to the council’s own carbon reduction aspirations.

Jemima Parker, Zero Carbon Harrogate’s chair, said: “Trees are the most cost-effective and efficient method of removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. The loss of trees, and woodland is contradictory to Harrogate Biodiversity Action Plan which is meant to increase woodland cover from 6% to the national level of 11.6%.”

ZCH, which is a member of The Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition set up by Harrogate Borough Council, says Rotary Wood’s role in the community should be protected, not undermined.

Jemima Parker said: “Rotary Wood is an Asset of Community value under the Localism Act. We understand that no assessment of the level of community use for recreational and sporting purposes has been conducted by Harrogate council.

“In the proposed mitigation by Harrogate Spring Water, the land off Crag lane is not accessible by the public, nor is it adjacent to the Pinewoods. This proposed site is private land where there is no guarantee that the proposed mitigation woodland will be maintained in-perpetuity for carbon capture and storage.”

As an organisation dedicated to making Harrogate District a net zero carbon community by 2030 in order to secure a sustainable future, ZCH argues that bottling water and transporting is a “carbon intensive way of delivering clean drinking water to a local and global market.”

The patron of ZCH, Professor Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds, is calling on Harrogate Spring Water to live up to its own environmental claims.

He said: “Danone and Harrogate Spring Water have set themselves worthy climate ambitions to be carbon neutral. Actions speak louder than words and every action they take should steer them towards this goal.”

Why we oppose expansion - by Harrogate Green Party

Rebecca Maunder, Green Party Campaigner for Harlow argues controversy over Harrogate Spring Water’s expansion plans stems partly from the way the process has been handled.

She said: “The amount of interest generated now - highlights a problem with the two-stage planning process. Harrogate Borough Council gave initial outline planning permission in 2017 without a discussion of the details.

“We found in 2019 that when we were out and about talking to local people about the plans, many knew nothing at all about it. This is no way for a council to agree to lease an Asset of Community Value or a community woodland with rich wildlife habitat.”

Harrogate and District Green Party believes Harrogate Spring Water’s current plans do not compensate for the ecological value of the existing woodland or its public amenity value.

Harrogate Green Party said it was still trying to work with HSW but was pushing for the company to try and obtain land adjacent to the woodland - land owned by the Duchy and Clarke Trust.

Rebecca Maunder said: “HSW could look to obtain around 8.5 hectares here so that they could establish a very valuable wildlife corridor between Birk Crag and the Pinewoods. This would allow wildlife to continue to access the Pinewoods and not decrease the foraging habitat.”

She believes the plans to take away a sizable part of Rotary Wood contradicts the Harrogate district’s Biodiversity Action Plan adopted by Harrogate Borough Council in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council, Natural England and the Environment Agency, along with local naturalist and conservation groups.

The Greens argue further that HSW’s need to expand for business reasons no longer make sense because of the economic impact of the Covid pandemic on bottled water sale across Britain.

Rebecca Maunder said: “We haven’t seen any evidence of an economic need for the HSW extension. Economic development needs to show ‘good growth’ as indicated by the North Yorkshire LEP plans.”

Rotary Club of Harrogate concerned at wood loss

The Rotary Club of Harrogate fears the current plans for the expansion of Harrogate Spring Water threaten, in its words, “the near destruction of community space”.

Instigated and financed by the Rotary Club itself in 2005, this organisation built on the ideal of service and providing assistance in the community, firmly believes that any removal of the trees in Rotary Wood should be fully replaced, in line with the local authority’s existing policy, for “the loss of biodiversity, carbon capture and community access.”

President of the Rotary Club of Harrogate Alistair Ratcliffe said: “the Rotary Club of Harrogate is appealing to councillors to defer the reserved matters until a permanent site can be found to create a new asset of community value.

“Current proposals do not provide sufficient space to plant enough trees as a permanent solution for both biodiversity and public access.”

Civic Society unhappy at replacement trees plan

Harrogate Civic Society objected to Harrogate Spring Water’s original extension plans in 2017, and continues to oppose the larger extension applied for in 2019, which is still to be decided by Harrogate Borough Council.

The society told the Harrogate Advertiser: “Among our concerns is the substantial loss of visual amenity due to the removal of many trees in the Rotary Wood.

“The replacement planting is proposed land some distance away (off Crag Lane) does nothing to compensate for these losses, since the new planting would be of two-to-three year old “trees”, opposed to 15-year-old trees, at the moment, and the land would not have public access.”

CORRECTION:

Last week’s article said the company’s plans would see the creation of a public woodland...

We need to make it clear the planned replacement planting will be on private land with no public access. It is a section of the current Rotary Wood which would still have public access and to which the company has referred to in terms of improved paths, information boards etc

Last week’s article also said that this was a revised application, to increase the developable area from 7 to 9 hectares. This should have been ‘from 0.77 to up to 0.94 hectares’.

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