‘Save our church gardens’ is the heartfelt plea that has come from a group of Harrogate residents who are campaigning hard to defeat a planning application that would see part of the historic surroundings being transformed into car parking spaces.
Those leading the charge have stressed that the gardens at St Mary’s Church on Harlow Terrace are a much-admired community space steeped in history, and that to lose any section of it would undermine the character and feel of the setting.
Matthew Weller, who is heading up the campaign group, said: “A church that has stood for over 100 years only to be surrounded by a tarmac car park would lose all of its appeal, its naturally evolved setting. This development would fundamentally destroy the character of the space and the value we place upon it. When was the last time anyone remarked on the beauty or charm of a car park?
"The gardens have always meant a great deal to me, I have walked past them twice a day for seven years. Every community, large or small, rural or residential, needs a focal point. And these church gardens represent our village green - a place for people to have a shared experience, albeit something as simple as meeting fellow dog walkers or just having a place where parents can meet and provide support for each other.”
If the plans are approved, eight car parking spaces would be constructed in the gardens, in addition to 11 spaces already approved on the Harlow Terrace side.
The applicants, Shaw and Jagger Architects, purchased St Mary’s Church in November last year, following the granting of planning permission in July 2017 for the church to become a mixed use residential/office development.
Speaking on behalf of the firm, Francis Shaw said: “The grounds have mainly been used for dog walkers, and sadly the dog faeces are often left for ourselves to pick up along with poo bags tied to a branch or left by the church. As an amenity I have not seen the space used in any other fashion.
“Our proposals are for a grasscrete car park surface - this is a cellular structure that supports cars, but through which grass can grow. We will have an office garden but it’s not public space and has only ever been maintained by the church and more recently ourselves. We are restoring the church and this space is critical for the viability of the proposed work.”
Beauty of 'picture perfect' church gardens praised.
Matthew Weller, who is urging residents to make submissions against the planning application, said the church gardens are “irreplaceable” for the community.
He said: “When I pass the church and its gardens on a night-time, my mind sees a Rene Magritte painting, it really is irreplaceable. These gardens need to be preserved for another 100 years so other generations of people will take as much pleasure and solace from them as I do.”