Harrogate Spring Water expansion plans rejected as woodland campaigners celebrate victory

Campaigners have been victorious in their fight to save an area of Rotary Wood from destruction as councillors have voted to refuse Harrogate Spring Water's expansion plans.

By Jacob Webster
Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 4:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 4:54 pm

Harrogate Borough Council's planning committee has this afternoon rejected the firm's proposals to expand its plastic bottling factory further onto the community woodland in what was one of the most significant planning decisions in the town's recent history.

Rotary Wood was planted by local children 15 years ago and has since become a battleground in a long-running dispute between Danone-owned Harrogate Spring Water and local campaigners including TV presenter Julia Bradbury.

Harrogate Spring Water's proposal to expand its bottling plant into Rotary Wood was heard by the Harrogate Borough Council planning committee today.

The bottled water company was given permission to expand in 2017, but submitted a revised outline application for a larger site which was recommended for approval by the council's planning department.

At today's meeting, councillors went against the recommendation to reject the plans in a move which could now be subject to an appeal by Harrogate Spring Water.

Councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party, accused the council of putting "profit and plastic before impact on the environment" in its recommendation for approval.

Conservative councillor Jim Clark also said approving the plans would have been "damaging" for Harrogate's image.

He said: "This will put Harrogate on the map for all the wrong reasons."

Neil Hind, chairman of Pinewoods Conservation Group, also spoke in objection to the plans. He questioned: "Does the name of Harrogate want to be associated with single use plastic? Is that what we want to be known for, when as a district we can offer so much more, especially around our green spaces.

"What economic benefit will this really bring. This variation could bring just another 12 jobs for an industry where sales are falling, and sales will continue to reduce.

"This business growth does not align to the North Yorkshire LEP strategy on circular economy. It also does not support the longer-term ambitions of the new council to become a carbon negative region.

"The reasons given to approve just do not stack up."

Harrogate Spring Water made a commitment to replace the lost trees at a rate of two to one at a nearby site but green campaigners have long argued this would not go far enough to compensate for the loss of the Rotary Wood.

Speaking at today's meeting, Stuart Natkus, an agent for Harrogate Spring Water, said it was important to remember that the application already has planning permission to remove some trees.

He also said the arguments were “not as simple as plastics versus trees”.

"What we are seeking to do is a 22% increase in the developable area where a future application can come," Mr Natkus added. "It's 0.17 hectares which is effectively a quarter of a football pitch."

The council's planning department said it was recommended the plans for approval because the economic benefits of the proposed expansion would outweigh the negative impacts.

“There are significant economic benefits of the proposed development, including job creation, other financial benefits to the district and the enhancement of the Harrogate brand,” officers said in a report.

Rob Pickering, a senior spokesperson for Harrogate Spring Water, said: "We’re disappointed by the committee’s decision to reject the revision of our planning application.

"We have been able to clearly demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits, as well as outline our commitment to leaving a positive environmental impact. At this stage, we will need to consider our options and decide on our next steps.

"However, irrespective of this decision, we would like to reassure our local community that we are committed to keeping them informed and involved with any environmental measures and landscaping developments at the Harrogate Spring Water site in the future."

The plans were rejected with eight councillors voting for rejection and four absentenions.