Protesters gathered on Tuesday for the start of a public inquiry into plans for hundreds of homes in Ripon, which have been strongly objected to by Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.
Branded by the National Trust as a threat to the World Heritage Site with its close proximity, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has intervened to have the final say over the 390 homes planned for the south west of West Lane, stating that the development includes proposals which could have an “adverse impact” on Fountains Abbey.
All of the evidence and recommendations from the inquiry will be presented in a report to Mr Javid by David Nicholson, who is leading the inquiry.
Expected to run over nine to ten days, the inquiry is hearing evidence and representations from concerned parties including the National Trust, Ripon City Council, and the Ripon Residents Planning Group.
Gladman Developments first submitted their plans for 450 homes in 2014, before reducing this to 430 in 2015. Over the last three years there has a been a groundswell of opposition from residents, councillors, and community groups from across the city.
The appeal by Gladman’s against Harrogate Borough Council’s non-determination of their original application in December last year has brought the development to public inquiry, which has been reduced to up to 390 homes.
Representing the National Trust, barrister Clare Parry said in her opening statement: “World heritage sites are inscribed for their outstanding universal value - that is, they have a cultural and or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for the present and future generations of all humanity.
”It is incumbent on the planning system to consider proposed development in the setting of world heritage sites with the utmost care. Contrary to that, the National Trust consider that the appellants have throughout this application process underestimated the harm to the World Heritage Site.
“The appeal site has a rural undeveloped character which would be fundamentally altered by this development. This would cause irreversible damage to the current landscape character.”
Ripon city councillor Peter Horton, who joined protesters and is due to speak at the inquiry, said: “This development would have a dreadful impact on traffic, the city’s schools, and our World Heritage Site - it’s right next to the buffer zone. It would also be next to Quarry Moor, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
“We want to gather outside to show the strength of feeling opposing the plans. There would be 390 homes added to this area, and 105 homes have just been approved at the Choir School Site which is a big increase.
“I would like to emphasise what it says in the City Plan, that we should be building on brownfield sites, not greenfield ones. There are plenty of opportunities to do that in Ripon.
“When the military barracks become available, the site could be put to good use for housing as a brownfield site, not a greenfield site like this one.”
Representing Gladman Developments, Richard Kimblin QC said in an opening statement: “The inquiry will have to grapple with the setting of the World Heritage Site. Plainly, the appeal site is not in the World Heritage Site buffer zone.
“The World Heritage Site at its nearest is about 1km away from the appeal site. The rest stretches away to the west and south west.
“It is a simple point: if a development gives rise to no perpetual impact on the World Heritage Site such that nothing can be perceived by the senses, and visitors to the World Heritage Site are unaware of the development, then there is no setting relationship.
“The appellant will contend that there is no impact. In the alternative, any heritage impact is extremely small and easily outweighed by the public benefits.”
For the residents who have been fighting the development every step of the way, their objections are broad and impassioned.
Connie Blackmore, who lives on Whitcliffe Lane, said: “We have got plenty of brownfield sites to accommodate this, we do not need to use greenfield land. It’s a tragedy really, the Choir School site homes have been approved, which adds another 105 homes, and the Choir School is another historic site. This would be so close to Fountains Abbey.”
Jenny Moss, who lives on the same street, said: “The traffic is already quite bad as it is, without these homes as well.”
Alarmed at the strains that the housing development could put on Ripon’s infrastructure, David Rivers, said: “We don’t have enough doctors or dentists. The infrastructure is just not there to cope with the extra numbers.
“We have been going as a residents group for two years now, we are doing everything that is sensible to bring the views of local people to the fore. We are right behind Fountains Abbey and the National Trust in their objections”
Whether Ripon’s flood defences will stand up to any extra surface water that goes into the river Skell has also been at the forefront of campaigners’ minds.
Kevin Howard, who has lived in Ripon all his life, said: “It’s an accident waiting to happen. We can’t let this happen - if it does, it sets a precedent that developers can build where they like without thinking about what could happen.”
Fountains Abbey is not the only Ripon beauty spot that residents have raised concerns about. Eddie and Angela Glover, who live next to Quarry Moor, said the Site of Special Scientific Interest must be protected.
It is not the first time that this particular issue has been raised. Coun Peter Horton said additional footfall from the homes could lead to an increase in use which is not sustainable.
Mr Glover said: “It seems to me that nothing is sacred anymore. If the houses are built there, it is not just the visual part of it. It could lead to more developments spreading out towards Studley. What we have needs looking after, not destroying”
Mrs Glover said: “There are certain flora you can find in Quarry Moor that you can’t find anywhere else, it’s the only place in the world to have them. We are not against housing developments, this is just in the wrong place.”
Coun Stuart Martin, who will be speaking at the inquiry on Thursday to object to the plans, said: “I just hope this goes the right way.
"Yesterday was very much about Gladman giving their evidence, but over the next few days it will be balanced out more.
"I am feeling quite positive at the moment, I think the case is there to be won really. We have got a World Heritage Site on our doorstep and the Cathedral on our doorstep. You couldn't get more heritage than this, and whatever you think about a need for housing, it doesn't take away the fact that this is next to heritage assets which would be impacted by it.