Councillors unite against Ripon Cathedral referendum on plans to build new £8 million annexe

Councillors in Ripon voiced their anger at a proposed public referendum on the Cathedral’s £8 million annexe on Monday evening with council leader Andrew Williams describing it as a “circus” that will deepen divisions within the city.
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But a parish meeting will take place on March 18 at Holy Trinity Church after it was confirmed that the man behind the referendum, Stanley Mackintosh, has the signatures of the six Ripon residents on the electoral roll needed for the meeting to happen.

If at the meeting just ten electors vote in favour of the referendum, also called a parish poll, it would then take place, likely in April.

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It wouldn’t be legally binding but would include around 12 yes or no questions on topics including the felling of trees, open space and impact on businesses.

A number of councillors have voiced their anger at a proposed public referendum on Ripon Cathedral’s new annexeA number of councillors have voiced their anger at a proposed public referendum on Ripon Cathedral’s new annexe
A number of councillors have voiced their anger at a proposed public referendum on Ripon Cathedral’s new annexe

At a full meeting of Ripon City Council last night at the town hall, councillors voted unanimously to denounce the referendum in a motion that described it as a “waste of money”.

It came after Mr Mackintosh lost the support of two councillors, Eamon Parkin and Chris Hardisty, on Friday.

However, even without the backing of the councillors, Ripon City Council would still be required to bear the cost of the vote which has been estimated at £10,000.

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Councillor Williams said he had received angry emails from residents who incorrectly believed it was the council proposing the referendum.

He said: “We should categorically record our views so it’s quite clear to the public that one individual is orchestrating this circus.

“There’s already a process for residents to voice their disapproval on the planning portal.

"This is not going to achieve a single thing – we need to find common ground and bring people together instead of dividing further with this nonsense of a parish poll.

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"It makes my blood boil that money can be frittered away on something like this, it is ridiculous.”

Councillor Barbara Brodigan said the money for the poll would be better spent elsewhere, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis for residents.

She said: “What will the council have to cut to pay for £10k costs?

"Only at the last meeting, some councillors voted to increase the council tax precept by 9 per cent.

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"Will residents have to suffer because of this vanity project?”

Lifelong Ripon resident Councillor Pauline McHardy said the debate around the annexe proposals was “hurtful and not necessary”.

She said: “I have never known anything like this in all my life.

"I’ve been reading things on Facebook and some terrible remarks against our Dean and the Cathedral itself.”

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The parish meeting which will discuss the referendum proposals will take place at Holy Trinity Church on March 18 at 6pm.

Anyone is entitled to attend but only residents of the Ripon parish on the electoral roll will be entitled to vote at the meeting.

Mr Mackintosh told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that questions for the poll will be finalised within the next week.

He said the £10,000 estimated cost is “baseless and disingenous” as he believes the bulk of the money would be spent on time worked by council officers who are already on a salary.

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He added: “Elsewhere in our troubled world, the price for protecting democracy is very heavy, including life and limb of citizens.

"Let us count our blessings that our imperfect system still has jewels of pure democracy like the parish poll, where electors can express what they really think, but in secret, free from establishment pressure.

“The parish poll is is a rare and precious democratic tool that establishments seem to fear and hate intensely, and try to derail by all means possible.”