A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has given an insight into the strategy of Harrogate Spring Water Limited over its plans for the expansion of its bottling plant, using an adjacent area of woodland.
In mid-2021, the Harrogate Borough Council Planning Committee refused the planning permission, and Harrogate Spring Water said that they wouldn’t appeal the decision with the Planning Inspectorate.
Following that meeting, HSWL wrote to HBC asking that the planning process be speeded up around the Rotary Woods land. HSWL wanted to combine the process of their planning application for the land to include HBC’s disposal of the land (or their purchase of it).
Harrogate Borough Council officers, responded with a fairly lengthy, and factual reply, essentially say that is now how they work generally, or how they will work in this case.
The council emphasised that they had two roles in this case, as landowner and as the planning authority, something they have pointed out that is not always as clearly understood as it should be.
In their letter to HBC, HSWL said:
In choosing against the option not to appeal, we did kindly ask that you lend your assistance. As discussed, a key element would be to try to expedite the process of releasing land of its status, in order to avoid a protracted period of consultation and media scrutiny. I firmly that this would be in the best interest of both parties.
A spokesperson for the Pinewoods Conservation Group said:
We can confirm there has been no proactive discussions with ourselves over the last 12 month. With each year that passes the Rotary Wood area of The Pinewoods becomes a more mature woodland with increasing bird and plant life, improving the biodiversity of the area and improving air quality.
We are aware that Cllr Swift has been vocal in his support of this planned development but would be very concerned if any promises had been made to expedite any part of this complicated process and avoid full transparency and consultation. We also note that Cllr Cooper has recently been attending planning committee meeting and would hope he would now excuse himself from any future planning committee that considered these planning matters.
However, we are somewhat comforted by comments from council officers restating the legal & planning processes that needs to be followed with respect to disposal of public land, and land that is protected as an ‘asset of community value’.
Our lawyers will continue to monitor progress with interest.
A spokesperson for Harrogate Spring Water Limited (HSWL) said:
As part of our decision-making on how to progress with the development proposals, as you would expect HSW representatives held a meeting with senior councillors in September last year at which part of the discussion included the process involved with the ‘Asset of Community Value’ (ACV). HSW representatives enquired as to whether the process for the ACV could run in parallel to a planning application, or if it would need to be done after the planning application process.
Our intention with this discussion was to better understand the likely timescales to inform our business planning, should any planning application be successful. The email in question seeks to establish whether the timing of two different processes could run concurrently, but with the understanding that both would be completely open to public scrutiny and consultation when they are carried out, in line with the council’s processes.
As the email states, we have always endeavoured to do the right thing for the town of Harrogate. We are committed to working with the public, and once we have decided the most appropriate way to progress an application, we will be proactively in touch with the community and key stakeholders.
Harrogate Spring Water have said they will not attend the Pinewoods AGM on Monday. 21 March 2022.
To read the FOI response, see FOI 0658- Redacted