What's next in battle for Rotary Wood after Harrogate Spring Water loses vote on its bigger expansion plans

It’s not just Harrogate Spring Water which is having to decide its next steps after this week’s crunch vote over its revised expansion plans - it’s the ‘victors’ in this long-running controversy.

Friday, 29th January 2021, 4:01 pm
Neil Hind Chairman of the Pinewoods Conservation Group walking through the Pinewoods in Harrogate.

The growing number of community groups and environmental campaigners regard it as a battle overcome rather a war won.

And the eventual outcome of this three-year long dispute over the future of this Harrogate company and the trees and plantlife at neighbouring Rotary Wood near the Pinewoods may eventually have to be decided by the land’s owners - Harrogate Borough Council.

Councillors who voted on Tuesday may have voted against this version of a new, bigger bottling plant at Harlow Moor where woodland meets residential streets but the expansion of Harrogate Spring Water has not been settled.

The company has said it is now “considering its options and deciding on its next steps”. Crucially, it still has outline planning permission for its smaller expansion plans, granted in 2017.

In theory it could choose to appeal this week’s decision via the courts, with all the extra delay that would entail.

And should Harrogate Spring Water opt t0 go ahead with its original expansion plans, it will will need to submit a full application over the next few months to meet the May planning deadline.

That would then go back to a full planning committee for councillors to review.

Although Tuesday’s planning meeting prompted heated oratory about climate change and the future of the planet, both planning officers and many of the councillors present were keen everyone stuck to planning policy and that any decision was founded on sound planning grounds.

Liberal Democrat councillor Pat Marsh, cited national planning policy around protecting the natural environment and the council’s Local Plan as reasons why she opposed Harrogate Spring Water’s revised expansion.

Coun Marsh said: “I am so pleased members of the committee supported the refusal. I felt strongly that the expansion proposed was a step too far. It’s a contentious site; one I know very well having lived in that area when I was a young girl.”

Groups battling to preserve Rotary Wood as a recognised ‘asset of community value’ are determined to ensure that any compensation land by Harrogate Spring Water offered for the loss of trees lives up to its billing whatever happens next.

Tuesday’s planning meeting saw Mark Williams, Principal Planning Officer at Harrogate Borough Council, tell councillors the replacement site behind RHS Harlow Carr offered by the company was mainly suited for the loss of biodiversity rather than trees, and was located on private land inaccessible to the public.

If one thing was clear from Tuesday’s vote, it’s that councillors are not minded to offer a blank cheque for future developments.

Questions regarding the impact on the environment of Harrogate Spring Water’s activities may be broad but the argument looks set to be about the smallest of details.

Pinewoods Conservation Group, which has taken a leading role in the campaign to save Rotary Wood, claims that this difficult ball will end up at the feet of the landowners, Harrogate Borough Council.

Its chair, Mr Neil Hind, said: “Harrogate Spring Water will now need to think very carefully if they decide to come back with a full application for the smaller extension where outline planning is currently approved.

“Harrogate Council will also have a very difficult decision considering the public backlash on this application.

“The question will be - following the recent negative press coverage and obvious support from residents to preserve Rotary Wood - will Harrogate Council still want to dispose of community woodland for a bottling plant extension?”

What councillors said on Harrogate Spring Water's revised expansion plans

Conservative councillor Sam Gibbs represents the Harrogate Valley Gardens ward: “It’s important to remember that as elected councillors we have a duty to represent our constituents. I have to say I struggle to see how approving this proposal can in any way be in the best interests of the people we represent.

“The loss of any wood is a shame, even if established trees are replaced elsewhere, but this wood isn’t simply any wood. Not only is it heavily used by residents, but it also sits in a special landscape area and is officially recognised as an asset of community value.”

Councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party: “In my eyes Harrogate Borough Council are saying profit and plastic before impact on the environment. Not on my watch. We have good grounds for refusal.”

Conservative councillor Jim Clark, who represents the Harrogate Harlow ward: “This is the frontline in the fight to save the planet. This is where the battle for the planet is going to be fought. It’s what we do as individuals. I think it’s important that each and every one of us takes responsibility.”

Conservative councillor Nigel Simms, who represents Masham and Kirkby Malzeard: “The fact remains that there is an extant permission for 80% of this site anyway. That’s going whether we like it or not. I can’t see that all the arguments for biodiversity and plastic have anything to do with this council and whether or not to give them planning permission because it’s not our gift to ban this company from using plastic. That is a government function.”

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