Ripon Cathedral expansion: 'Impractical' to keep veteran beech tree

Ripon Cathedral has argued that retaining a veteran beech tree in proposals for a £6m annexe would be “unfeasible and impractical”.

In a submission to North Yorkshire Council, planning agent Rose Consulting has laid out the reasons why the Cathedral feels the tree must be chopped down to make way for a new song school, cafe and toilet facilities on open space called Minster Gardens.

But the felling of 11 trees including the veteran beech has proved to be controversial and a petition protesting the move has now been signed by over 1,000 people.

The proposal is set to be decided by councillors this year and Rose Consulting has offered detailed policy reasons why it says the felling of the much-loved tree meets the strict tests for its removal as set out in Harrogate’s Local Plan.

It argues that given the “exceptional significance” of the Cathedral, a case can be made that there is “overwhelming public benefit” in removing the tree, which it says could help secure the future of the historic site for many years to come.

Ripon Cathedral.

According to the consultants, the council raised concerns about the loss of the beech tree during pre-application advice.

However, the Cathedral judged that even if the tree had engineering support, keeping it would not be possible because it would be too near to the new annexe.

It said the construction process would also have a “significant impact” on the roots of the tree, which could potentially kill it.

The council asked if the proposed building could be redesigned to save the tree, with one option involving finding a different location for the storage part of the development.

It also asked if the proposed building could be moved back into the another part of the site called Mason’s Yard.

But the Cathedral has argued this would result in a longer building and the removal of three more trees.

They said this would adversely affect the Grade II listed hotel the Old Deanery as well as views of the Cathedral from the car park.

The consultants finally said that the loss of the 11 trees would be compensated for with 21 “substantial” new trees planted round the development as well as more being planted at the nearby Studley Royal.

Jenni Holman who set up the petition to protest against the removal of the trees, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service today that the Cathedral is “creating a rift” between themselves and the local community.

Ms Holman said:

“The Dean and Chapter has only referred to ideas which included changing the design of the building and why the Mason’s Yard is not suitable. I can take on board all those factors.

“I would however like to know why a redesigned or rebuilt Cathedral Hall cannot be utilised?  As a two story building, access would be on a level with access through the south door of the cathedral.

“The toilets would then be a comparable distance from the cathedral as the proposed new build, but having the advantage of not having a road to cross. The Dean has never actually explained, to my knowledge, why this is not possible.

“A second option is within the grounds of the Dean’s residence. The house itself is of a considerable size and there is also a considerable-sized stable block which could be used for his desired storage.

“I would be interested to know why these options have not been mentioned or even considered.”

By Thomas Barrett, Local Democracy Reporter