Bottled-up resentment spills out in Harrogate over spring water expansion

Harrogate Valley Gardens in their heyday
Harrogate Valley Gardens in their heyday
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Famous for its waters, Harrogate has for hundreds of years celebrated its reputation as one of the leading spa towns in the UK.

The North Yorkshire town has found global fame as it is home to Britain’s oldest bottled brand, Harrogate Spring Water, said to be a favourite of Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Prince William.

Harrogate Water's plant on Harlow Moor Road.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Harrogate Water's plant on Harlow Moor Road. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

And, after years of record growth, plans have been revealed to expand its operation within Harrogate’s Conservation Area, although the proposals have already sparked a ripple of concern.

“It should never have been allowed to be here in the first place,” resident Stella Pilling has said, filing official objections as the outline application is submitted.

A beautiful part of Harrogate is being desecrated and built over.”

Once celebrated as one of the country’s premier spas, Harrogate’s famous waters were renowned for their restorative qualities.

They drew crowds from across the country, and were even recommended by Queen Elizabeth’s own physician in the 16th century as the town was christened the ‘English spa’.

As time passed, their popularity faded, but Harrogate has held strong links to its heritage.

And with the growth of Harrogate Spring Water in recent years, it has seen something of a revival as the town becomes famous for its water once again.

“Harrogate is synonymous with water,” said chief executive James Cain. “I doubt, if the waters were never found, that the town would look like it does now.

“All the buildings and the infrastructure were set up to receive people coming to Harrogate to take the waters.

“Our heritage is unrivalled. We are proud to be carrying the baton.”

The firm, based off Harlow Moor Road in the town, has seen success in recent years with growth levels topping 30 per cent in 2016 after a major investment.

But, placed as it is within Harrogate’s Conservation Area and close to the prized Valley Gardens, Pinewoods, and residential areas, it has been somewhat limited.

Now, as the company looks to expand by up to 5,500sq m to ensure its water can be bottled at source, it has already been met with opposition.

Critics say it is the wrong site for industrial development, with an inevitable loss to its landscape value.

But, says the firm, dense woodland borders the site on three sides, and the factory is already well screened and largely concealed from view.

“We are based where we are because that’s where the water is,” said Mr Cain, adding that footpaths and walkways would be created for people to enjoy the surrounding landscape.

“We’ve been built in the right way. We are continuing to operate in a very considered fashion as we run and grow our business.”

The proposed development, the company added, could be key to bringing huge benefits to Harrogate and across the region in terms of economy, jobs, and global recognition.

“We’ve built our business and our brand to meet the demands of the consumer,” said Mr Cain.

“It’s become more and more popular as people are taking stock of their daily habits.

“Clearly the investment continues. The emerging markets are quite exciting for us.

“We promote the town name of Harrogate across the globe – and that has to be good news, whether for our employees or for people in the town and region.”