MP hopefuls give their verdict on controversial plans to expand Harrogate Spring Water factory

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The six candidates vying to be the next MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough gave their verdict on Harrogate Spring Water’s controversial expansion plans at a meeting on Tuesday.

Residents packed into the Wesley Centre in Harrogate town centre for a hustings event organised by the Harrogate Informer.

The Danone-owned water company has lodged plans with North Yorkshire Council to expand its bottling plant on Harlow Moor Road.

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A previous bid was refused by the former Harrogate Borough Council in 2021.

The six candidates vying to be the next MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough have given their verdict on the controversial plans to expand the Harrogate Spring Water factory on Harlow Moor RoadThe six candidates vying to be the next MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough have given their verdict on the controversial plans to expand the Harrogate Spring Water factory on Harlow Moor Road
The six candidates vying to be the next MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough have given their verdict on the controversial plans to expand the Harrogate Spring Water factory on Harlow Moor Road

It’s been one of the biggest talking points in the town over the last few years due to the emotive topic of trees.

The firm says a bigger factory will mean it can create 50 new jobs and boost economic output by around £2.3 million a year to £6.2 million a year.

But will involve 450 trees being chopped down in Rotary Wood in the Pinewoods.

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Harrogate Spring Water says it will plant an additional 1,200 trees on two acres of land next to its existing HQ.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the candidates whether North Yorkshire Council should approve the application when councillors finally have their say later this year.

Shan Oakes from the Green Party has campaigned against the scheme and was the first to respond.

She argued the trees were planted by schoolchildren and local Rotary Club members and should be protected.

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Ms Oakes added: “How a huge corporation like Danone has the cheek and gall to remove the trees?

"Should Harrogate be proud of producing plastic with a bit of water in it?”

Labour has selected 24-year-old York councillor Conrad Whitcroft to stand.

He appeared to either misunderstand the question or was not aware of the planning application.

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He said: “It’s worth noting that MPs don’t get to decide planning laws.

"I don’t think we should build more homes on the green belt.”

Conservative Andrew Jones was first elected as MP in 2010 and said he once received advice from his predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Phil Willis, that “wading in” to planning applications as an MP can do more harm than good.

Mr Jones said: “I’ve helped plant trees across the area, I want to see more trees planted and not removed.

"We should be looking at a significant net gain.

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"The principle should be enhancing nature and preserving it.”

John Swales from Reform UK is the only candidate to have been brought up in Harrogate.

He was categorical that the application should be refused.

He said: “I played in the Pinewoods when I was small and we take our dog there.

"We don’t need a factory sticking out of it.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Tom Gordon said he would work with bosses at Harrogate Spring Water to try and ensure the application is right for the community.

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He was critical of the current plans to replace the trees in Rotary Wood calling it “not good enough”.

He added: “The current application does the bare minimum to offset [the loss of trees] and it’s greenwashing.”

Independent Paul Haslam said Danone has “very clear” company policies that state they won’t damage the environment through its business practices.

He said: “I would say it’s about talking to people and doing what we believe is most appropriate.

"We have planning rules to follow but we have to engage and make sure our arguments are fully robust and we get biodiversity net gain.”

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