Harrogate Spring Water: New details emerge about how council makes money from bottled water plant

New details have emerged about Harrogate Spring Water's rental agreements with the borough council as the company has still yet to reveal latest expansion plans for its bottled water plant.

By Jacob Webster
Friday, 25th March 2022, 3:55 pm
Updated Friday, 25th March 2022, 3:58 pm
Harrogate Spring Water's Harlow Hill site.
Harrogate Spring Water's Harlow Hill site.

After being refused permission to expand onto Rotary Wood in January 2021, the company said it would submit new plans “in the coming weeks”.

But eight months on after that statement last July, there is still no sign of another planning application from the firm which faced a backlash from campaigners, residents and councillors after having its proposals recommended for approval by Harrogate Borough Council.

The council has now revealed new details of a turnover-based rent agreement that it has had with Harrogate Spring Water since the company first opened its Harlow Hill site in 2002.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the council refused to say how much money it has received as the details are deemed to be of "commercial value".

But it did disclose for the first time that it receives 0.5% of Harrogate Spring Water's annual turnover.

And when calculated using the company's turnover figures, the Local Democracy Reporting Service has found that the council has received an estimated £853,033 over an 18-year period.

This is on top of an annual base rent which was initially agreed at £10,000 in 2002 and has since climbed to £15,232 following a review every five years.

These financial benefits for the council have previously raised questions over a potential conflict of interest in its decision-making for Harrogate Spring Water's expansion plans.

But the council has repeatedly said there is no such risk and that it has followed the correct procedures when dealing with the proposals.

A council spokesperson said: “As we’ve said numerous times, there is no conflict of interest.

"Land/site ownership is not a material consideration when an application is considered.

“It is normal practice for planning authorities to take decisions on planning applications relating to land in its own ownership.

"There are no requirements nationally for a planning application - whether it is on council-owned land or not - to be determined by another local planning authority or other mechanism."

The council also confirmed it has no other turnover-based rent agreements with any other of its tenants.

And it said the rent from Harrogate Spring Water is used to "deliver valuable front-line services across the Harrogate district.

This comes as emails obtained in a separate Freedom of Information request show the council has said it would consider selling Rotary Wood to Harrogate Spring Water.

The site is subject to a 125-year lease which is reportedly worth £1.13 million.

When the council recommended the company's expansion plans for approval last year, it said there were "significant economic benefits of the proposed development, including job creation, other financial benefits to the district and the enhancement of the Harrogate brand."

But this was not a view shared by campaigners who argued that in the face of a climate emergency, it was vital that the council preserved green spaces and not replaced them with a larger factory producing plastic bottled water.

This argument was backed by members of the council's own planning committee who accused the authority of putting "profit and plastic before impact on the environment".

Harrogate Spring Water was first granted outline planning permission to expand its bottling site onto Rotary Wood - which was planted by children and forms part of the 40-hectare Pinewoods forest - in 2017.

Two years later, the company submitted a revised application that was 40% larger than the one originally approved, but then failed to win full permission.

In a new statement issued this week, Harrogate Spring Water said it is currently "evaluating its plans" but did not hint at when its latest proposals could be revealed.

The company also said it is "committed to working with the public" and "will continue to keep people engaged and informed as part of the process".

Pinewoods Conservation Group - the charity responsible for the conservation of the Pinewoods forest - has been at the forefront of the objections to the company's expansion over Rotary Wood.

The charity said there have been "no proactive discussions" from Harrogate Spring Water over its latest plans which it said should be scrapped altogether.

A charity spokesperson said: "With each year that passes the Rotary Wood area of the Pinewoods becomes a more mature woodland with increasing bird and plant life, improving the biodiversity of the area and improving air quality.

"The continued delays are however now impacting on any future plans for that area of the Pinewoods. We know, for example, that footpath works are much needed but are reluctant to potentially waste limited charity funds.

"We hope that with continued public pressure on unsustainable businesses such as Harrogate Spring Water, and this community site specifically, that any expansion plans are now abandoned."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter