Rotary Woods
Rotary Woods

As the planning decision for the Danone/ Harrogate Water bottling plant is delayed, we talk to the Pinewoods Conservation Group

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Harrogate Water Spring Water is now owned by Danone, they are pushing forward with plans to extend their bottling plant at the rear of the current plant.

It roughly doubles the current estate and will see the destruction of an area of woodland called the Rotary Woods.

The development is being justified on a need to expand the bottling capacity.

We put a few questions to Neil Hind, from the Pinewoods Conservation Group.

What is the Pinewoods and what does the Conservation group do ?

The Pinewoods is approximately 96 acres of semi-natural woodland, one kilometre south-west of Harrogate town centre. It sits between Valley Gardens and RHS Harlow Carr forming a green corridor from the Harrogate Town Centre.

The Pinewoods Conservation Group was formed in October 2002 and became a registered charity on January 2003. The group’s aim is to promote the maintenance and conservation of the environment within the Harrogate area and especially the area known as the Pinewoods.

We also work to promote and encourage the conservation of the natural habitat of wildlife in the area and to advance the education of the public in the use of the woodlands by encouraging them to participate in the management of the woods.

Neil Hind, Pinewoods Conservation Group
Neil Hind, Pinewoods Conservation Group

Harrogate Water is next to the Pinewoods and they want to expand the footprint of their site, the group has pushed against the plans, why shouldn’t they expand ?

The land they are looking to expand into is known locally as Rotary Wood. This was planted as part of the Harrogate Rotary’s centenary by members, residents, and school children. This forms a key nature corridor between a number of green spaces. It is also legally designated as an “Asset of Community Value” to further illustrate its importance to the community.

It is become increasingly accepted that plastic bottled water is an unsustainable product ongoing. During the COVID pandemic it was one of the 1st items that supermarkets withdrew from home delivery services that shows there are alternatives available. It is our view that the ecological loss is too large to justify this expansion.

Looking at the milestone dates, do you believe it has followed due process and involved the public ?

Engagement throughout this process has been poor and been the minimal that is required as part of the planning process. The original ecological planning conditions were put in place May 2017 with no real effort to consult or share any mitigation plans until very recently. We know a number of groups have sought involvement and with little success.

We also know that many residents and local groups remain sceptical on what mitigation will be provided and an opportunity to win the hearts and minds has been lost.

Has the fact that Harrogate Water is now not a Harrogate-owned company, but owned by Danone made any difference?

The takeover by Danone, especially the timing, has been very interesting. HWSL have always marketed themselves as a local family business so this is obviously no longer the case.

We know that the site on Harlow Hill already produces non-Harrogate branded water so there could be further diversification of product.

Danone have very strong conservation policies and statements, especially around de-forestation that we have been looking into. We hope that this additional scrutiny will ensure that the owners now do the right thing, and this is not merely corporate green washing.

Are the plans to build in or next to the Pinewoods ?

I know it has been reported previously that this land “isn’t really the Pinewoods” but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The area in question is covered by the councils own Management Plan and included within the Pinewoods “Asset of Community Value” designation.

Funds raised by the PCG go to maintenance of this area as well as the many other acres. Any approved plans will see the loss of acres of community land that residents will know and love as being “The Pinewoods”.

Where is the planning process now ?

It’s fair to say this is confusing with a number of planning submissions in the system, many that have had their deadline extended. The immediate issue is the application to further increase the size of the planned extension that could be heard on 8th Dec.

The secondary issue is the discharge of what is known as condition 12. This ensured that there was no negative ecological and environmental from the originally approved extension. More details on the plans are still awaited on this.

We are awaiting confirmation from Harrogate Council as to deadline for comments, but suspect timings will be tight! (see council comment below)

What can people do at this stage to get involved ?

We’ve had amazing support from our supporters and local resident over the last few years. There was over £5k raised earlier in the year for potential legal fees, hundreds of residents did raise objections against the planning application and more recently The Green party launched a petition that is near 1000 signatures in under a week. (https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-rotary-wood-in-harrogate)

At this stage it is really a “watch this space”. Until we have seen full details of the ecological mitigation plans and Harrogate council confirm planning committee dates and deadlines we are on hold. At the end of the day this is likely to come down to the thoughts of the planning committee.

What are the next steps if planning is approved?

The various planning applications and approval of conditions is only the first stage. The land is owned by Harrogate Council for the benefit of Harrogate residents. It is also protected by the Localism Act as an “Asset of Community Value”.

For the extension to be build than this designation needs to be approved and the council to agree a lease. We have been advised this will need public consultation and a legal process. As such still some way to go before any land is lost.

We will be keeping our members and supporters updated as always via social media and our regular newsletters.

A council spokesman said:

We understand that representatives for Harrogate Spring Water will be meeting with the Pinewoods Conservation Group and Harrogate Rotary to discuss how the loss of trees and biodiversity would be compensated for as part of planning application 19/05245/DVCMAJ. Once this has happened the plans will be submitted as part of the application.

These plans are yet to be submitted and when they are there will be a period of consultation to allow residents and interested parties the chance to comment on these proposals ahead of the matter being reported to our planning committee. The provisional date of 8 December is no longer achievable and a date for when the application will be presented to planning committee will be decided at a later date following the receipt of the plans and consultation period.



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