Fountains Abbey development plans criticised for creating 'exclusive club'

Under the new proposals, Studley tearoom would no longer be free to access. Picture: The National Trust.
Under the new proposals, Studley tearoom would no longer be free to access. Picture: The National Trust.

A £2.8 million project to create a new building extension at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal has been criticised as turning one of the World Heritage Site's main visitor hubs into an "exclusive club."

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The proposed internal seating space. Picture: The National Trust.

The proposed internal seating space. Picture: The National Trust.

Under the proposals, the existing Studley tearoom with its panoramic views over the lake would no longer be free to access - it currently sits outside the pay barrier, but the new plans would see the tearoom only being accessible to National Trust members and paying visitors to Fountains Abbey.

The building extension, which would include a new cafe, shop, toilets and admissions point, would sit around the existing tearoom. The National Trust has confirmed that the tearoom building itself will be preserved and extended upon, but the space inside will change, and the catering facility will likely be moved into the new part of the building to accommodate a larger kitchen and serving area.

Ripon resident Jenni Holman, who visits the tearoom frequently, and attended the National Trust's drop-in sessions to view the plans, said the new visitor centre looks "soulless," and takes away the unique quality of the existing facilities.

She said: "Many people go to Studley Park alone, either just to walk around it, perhaps around the Seven Bridges, and some will have walked from their homes and ended up in the park, ready for a cup of tea and a sit down.

"At present the cafe offers this - not all will be members, many people cannot afford to be, some will be visitors. Not everyone wishes to visit the Abbey. Having the cafe behind the pay station is preventing it from being used by all. It is turning it into an exclusive club.

"The National Trust would turn a unique welcoming cafe into another soulless canteen of a visitor centre, many of which can be seen all over the country. In my opinion, it aesthetically spoils the appearance of that area."

Jenni said the fight is not for herself - she is retired, and holds a membership which gives her access to Fountains Abbey and the grounds, but it is her concerns for families and other visitors that has driven her to speak out.

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She said: "I actually felt furious hearing about these plans. I am furious because in the past I visited the park countless times with my then small children, and enjoyed a sit down at the cafe. It is situated in a wonderful position looking down on the lake, and I thought about how fortunate we all are in the city of Ripon to have such a gem on our doorstep for free."

But the National Trust has stressed that no final decisions have been made regarding the interior design of the building at this stage, and that their research highlights less than five per cent of current users of the tearoom being non-paying visitors to the property or existing National Trust members.

A statement from the Trust said: "We are working with award-winning architects Feilden Fowles, and the design of the new building reflects the quality you would expect to see in a World Heritage Site.

"The architect’s impressions that have been revealed as part of the public consultation are only mock-ups to show the scale and positioning of the proposed building. These are intended to give an impression of the views of the exterior of the building and how it sits in the landscape. No final decisions have been made regarding interior design at this stage.

"Extensive research has been undertaken to review the functionality of this area, and the new layout will make the space much more welcoming to our visitors and give us an opportunity to explain the history of the gardens. This has also shown than less than five per cent of current users of the tea-room are not paying visitors to the property or existing National Trust members.

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"Unless you’re a member, as part of our proposal you will need to pay general admission to visit the property as the new building will sit behind the pay barrier, however, the larger restaurant and facilities at the nearby visitor centre (15 minutes’ walk from the Studley tea room) will remain free to access and park.

"As a charity we rely on membership and admission fees to do the conservation work necessary at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal as well as the Studley deer park which is owned and maintained by the National Trust. The over 400 acres of deer park are free to access and enjoy for the local community and visitors.

"It is an aim of the property to introduce a kiosk for hot drinks and snacks in the Studley car park area after we have completed this project."

Entry to the more than 400 acres of deer park including the Seven Bridges Valley and Studley lake will remain free to all to access.