Public talks are to be held on controversial plans to allow the Royal Horticultural Societ (RHS) in Harrogate to lease part of town’s much-loved Pinewoods beauty spot and create a footpath to Harlow Carr.
The RHS, which had plans approved by Harrogate Borough Council, in the face of strong opposition, to build a 150-space temporary car park and a 500-space permanent car park at Harlow Carr on the edge of the Pinewoods, is planning to lease an area of the beauty spot around the new site.
However, residents and members of the Pinewoods Conservation Group have reacted furiously to the proposals, claiming the woods, which link into the spa town’s Valley Gardens, should remain in the hands of the people of Harrogate.
Critics have warned the decision to approve the new car park could let development encroach on the Pinewoods.
Last night Peter Blayney, a member of the Pinewoods Conservation Group, said: “Pinewoods is one of the jewels in Harrogate’s crown.”
He said people were happy that Harlow Carr had proved a success and said it was good for the local economy but he did not understand why the RHS should be allowed to lease part of the pinewoods from the council – and is worried this will set a dangerous precedent.
“A lot of people are quite angry about it, dog walkers especially,” he added.
Last night the council confirmed that there would now be a public consultation on the lease proposal.
The move was welcomed by Coun Jim Clark, who represents the Harrogate Harlow division of North Yorkshire County Council and local campaigner Rebecca Burnett both welcomed news that there is to be a consultation on the proposals.
Coun Clark has voiced residents’ concerns about the necessity of the lease and that there had been no open discussions on the proposal. Many residents were concerned that this could be the beginning of the end of the Pinewoods.
Rebecca Burnett said: “I hope all interested parties will take the opportunity to make their views known during the consultation period which runs until 8th February.
“The Pinewoods are such an important part of Harrogate’s natural environment.”
The RHS is aiming to create a footpath along a small area of the Pinewoods for visitors to use. The proposal would mean that the RHS would take responsibility for maintaining the footpath.
Paul Griffiths, building services manager at Harlow Carr, said: “Our proposal is to lease part of the Pinewoods so that we can improve the footpath which currently exists within the Pinewoods which will improve access to our site.”
He said leasing the land would offer security of access and he said the concerns raised by individuals would be taken into account in terms of the lease that might be granted.
In a letter, Patrick Kilburn, the council’s head of parks and open spaces, says: “As you know we have been in discussions with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) over the possibility of them leasing from the council an area of the Pinewoods to enable them to construct a connecting footpath between their new proposed car park and their main gardens.
“I can advise that recently, agreement has been reached on draft terms for the lease with the RHS.”
A link will also be posted on the council’s website from today giving more details of the public consultation at: www.harrogate.gov.uk/parks.
There will then be a three week period where anyone can submit comments.
In his letter Mr Kilburn adds: “If during this period any objections are received then these will be formally considered by the Cabinet Member for Cultural Services who will make the final decision.”
A temporary car park of 150 spaces to the south will be used for up to five years, while the introduction of the larger facility will be phased in over 10 years.
The chairman of Harrogate Borough Council’s planning committee cast the deciding vote over the contentious plans after votes were split down the middle.
The RHS has previously insisted that the expansion is necessary to accommodate a huge surge in visitor numbers at Harlow Carr, from 70,000 in 2001 to a predicted 300,000 by 2014.