Does Harrogate really have “green credentials” if it allows a water bottling plant to expand ?

Despite the weather, Sarah Gibbs, from Knaresborough, kept to her plan to protest against Harrogate Spring Water/ Danone outside the Harrogate Borough Council’s main offices – 8 January 2021.

  • Development plans will destroy an area of woodland and greatly expand the number of plastic water bottles it produces.
  • Harrogate Spring is now owned by Danone and they have plans to remove an area of the Harrogate Pinewoods to build a new bottling plant.
  • Harrogate Borough Council receive a payment for the use of the land and water, but the figure is undisclosed.
  • Harrogate Spring Water/ Danone say that the expansion is needed and is essentially consistent with the Spring Water heritage of the town.
  • There remains opposition based on the destruction of woodland, how the development fits with Harrogate Borough Council’s green credentials and the fact that the world is now in different times around using plastic bottles.

Sarah said:

Harrogate Spring Water /Danone are demonstrating a lack of understanding when it comes to the significance of Rotary Wood for the community.

They have said that the end result will be good for the economy and will be something the public can enjoy – but that is not true.

Proposed mitigation is insubstantial when considering current carbon sequestration and area lost, including the connectivity; The replacement land will be on private land, where there will be no public access, far from public enjoyment.

This is a woodland with designated community asset and it is well-used and loved by the community. School children helped to plant this thriving woodland 16-years ago and the significance of this must not be underestimated.

This is sending a damaging and dangerous message to our children and for their future: that their efforts to tackle the current climate emergency are futile. That profit comes before planet and people. That no habitat is safe from development due to companies using current mitigation laws to get away with doing the bare minimum.

In terms of economic value, the sales of plastic water bottles have gone down and across the world people are recognising the fact that plastic is not progress, as the plastic water bottle has been banned in places such as Selfridges, numerous collages and in the town of Concord, Massachusetts, due to the damaging effects that plastic (including PET plastic) has on the planet.

Harrogate Spring Water have said that they have worked proactively with the community. but many reading this now have been consulted with?

1,177 members of the community have signed the petition to save Rotary Wood, along with over 100 collected messages from members of the community, expressing their desire to stop this development and save Rotary Wood.

Harrogate Spring Water board member, Mr Pickering, has said that Danone and Harrogate Spring Water are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to environmental conservation.’

The Pinewoods Conservation Group have issued a further objection after what is being described as a disappointing meeting.

Pinewoods Conservation Group added:

Despite a further meeting last week with Danone and their consultants we remain disappointed at current proposal and the offer of limited mitigation.

Our view is this does not meet the minimum expected and will result in a net loss for Harrogate. As such we have now submitted a 2nd objection relating to new information received.

We understand that the planning meeting is still scheduled for 26 January where will are likely to also make a verbal representation.

There will still be a need for public consultation on the loss of public land and the disposal of an “asset of community” value.


Sarah said that that during that meeting she posed this question:

I believe that businesses have the power to change the world for the better. Considering the current plastic pollution problem and damaging processes used to make the virgin plastic; that much of the UK’s recycling ends up in illegal land-fills across the world; and the recent scientific evidence linking deforestation to spread of disease and viruses; why won’t HSW and Danone develop policies that phase out plastic and deforestation?


Sarah said the answer was lacking:

They did not answer my question. Rather, Nikki Cain suggested that the PET plastic is the most environmentally friendly of plastics. I disagree.

Plastic is plastic.

To create the 50% virgin plastic in each Harrogate Spring Water bottle involves a damaging processes like fracking are involved.

When I asked Mrs Cain where they source the virgin plastic from and what processes are used to make it, she couldn’t answer me. It takes up to 450 years for PET plastic to breakdown and as it does, it releases methane (one of the most potent atmospheric greenhouse gases) and Ethelene (which reacts with OH in the atmosphere and increases carbon monoxide concentrations).

Sarah has raised concerns about how the businesse’s corporate green credentials are being applied in reality.

Sarah said:

There was no mention about ending deforestation.

Danone has a deforestation policy in which they commit to ‘eliminate deforestation by 2020’. When questioned about the current deforestation proposed in 2021, they said this only applies to their internal suppliers. So, it is yet more green-marketing to persuade consumers to buy their product out of preference.

There is no mention of the current colossal carbon footprint as Harrogate Spring Water ship an emphatically large number of bottles worldwide.

They claim to care about environmental conservation, but their business model is far from sustainable.

We need businesses to cut out greenwashing and develop real policies that protect our planet. We need more woodland habitats and less polluting plastic.

As our council, Harroate Borough Council have vested interests as they stand to make money from this development.

We need our council to properly represent the people and say NO! to Danone.

As consumers, we can choose refill, not landfill. We have the power to make positive change.

A spokesperson for the Pinewoods Conservation Group added:

We really appreciate the efforts of Sarah and many others in raisin the profile of these plans.

We know many of our supporters are very disappointed, not only with the plans, but with the lack of appetite from Danone to offer any real compensation to residents and to support the wider ecology of the area.

It does feel like the minimum possible if being offered. Our own review of their plans indicate that the replacement land and replacement planting being offers is not what the council’s planning committee insisted upon and will leave us in the much worse position.


Sarah continued:

Since the original application over 3 years ago the world no seems a very different place. During the pandemic delivery of bottled water was stopped by some supermarkets as deemed ‘non-essential’.

Plastic pollution has increased dramatically with the majority of plastic still not being recycled. People’s attitudes have changed resulting in reduced sales for the bottled water industry.

If Harrogate Council is really serious about it’s green commitments then approval of this site should be reviewed again and rejected in full.

Sarah has also said that Harrogate Spring Waters  green-marketing strategy of claiming they are ‘continuing a 5 centuries old tradition’, claiming to be an integral part of shaping Harrogate is flawed.

Sarah said:

The Harrogate we know and love today is centred around the history of its natural springs. In 1571 (450 years ago) William Slingsby discovered the first well, naming it Tewett well.

I grew up playing in this well (now sealed off). During the Georgian era, water was accessible to locals and visitors via the wells and springs. Visitors came to Harrogate to ‘take the waters’. It was this tourism that shaped Harrogate.

The water was never bottled and sent away. They certainly never bottled it in plastic. In fact, In the 1830s businessmen and hoteliers cottoned on to the benefits of the water and started to siphon it into their own wells and sell it to visitors.

The locals didn’t like this at all and called for an Act to be past to protect the springs. HSW claim to be an integral part of Harrogate’s history, continuing a tradition, but they bought the water access from our council in 2002. They bottle it in polluting plastic and ship it in colossal quantities across the world. Now global corporation Danone effectively own HSWL.

Therefore, are they not the same as the very thieves the public fought against back in 1830? Only now, it’s not enough they take our water, they intend to take our woodland of community asset too.

Water is not a commodity it’s a human right.


  1. My name is pam harrison I live in church Fenton I was born in Harrogate and I used to play in the pine woods why can’t they move somewhere else and leave it alone haven’t we seen enough damage I just can’t imagine what it will do to the wildlife regards P Harrison

  2. I am disgusted and very upset if this woodland is destroyed. We need trees and nature and how can we save the planet if all councils and this government are going to think about is making more money all the time. If we don’t go green there is no future for children of today

  3. Great work Sarah, keep it up. I was one of the teachers who helped school children to plant many of those trees back when the woods were first established. I am shocked and horrified to hear that all our hard work and effort is going to be bulldozed just so that HSW can produce more polluting plastic bottles.

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