Harrogate Spring Water has 'vastly underestimated' number of replacement trees for new bottling factory, research suggests

Harrogate Spring Water has vastly underestimated the number of trees it will need to replace community woodland it intends to destroy, new research released by the University of Leeds suggests.

The company, which is owned by multinational Danone, already has permission to build an extension, but has now applied to build a bigger one, on the site of Rotary Wood, planted 15 years ago by schoolchildren.

The plans have been recommended for approval, subject to a “biodiversity compensation site” being secured, but a final decision will be made by councillors today.

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Harrogate Spring Water has committed to replacing the lost trees at a rate of two to one, but the new study, by the university’s Priestley International Centre for Climate, reveals that would leave a huge shortfall, taking an axe to Harrogate Borough Council’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2038.

A CGI of how Harrogate Spring Water hope a patch of land will look after they've enhanced it

The report, which bases its calculations on the Forestry Commission’s Woodland Carbon Code, says that “over five hectares of additional planting with careful management” would be needed to enable the council to hit its target.

In addition, the compensation site proposed by Harrogate Spring Water is half a mile away, on private land with no public access, meaning that any future owner could potentially cut down the new trees.

Prof Piers Forster, co-author of the report and a member of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, said: “To really make carbon reduction work you have to keep it there permanently.

"Danone should really make a land purchase about five times the size of the current site, and then give that land to Harrogate Borough Council. That’s the only way you can guarantee that permanence.”

Harrogate Spring Water points to the 12 new jobs it says will be created by the enlarged project, and stresses that it wants to continue being a “good neighbour”.

Sales and marketing manager Rob Pickering told The Yorkshire Post: “We are one of the bigger employers in Harrogate and we are an important part of the regional economy, and this investment should be seen as an important step on that journey. This will essentially futureproof the business.”

But Neil Hind, chairman of the Pinewoods Conservation Group, said: “There’s going to be about a four-acre loss of public green space in the region. Our view is that Harrogate Spring Water are doing the minimum possible to get this over the line. There is no real benefit for the residents of Harrogate.”

Campaigners, who include TV presenter and countryside enthusiast Julia Bradbury, are regarding the decision as a “test case” for the council.

Sarah Gibbs, who has held weekly demonstrations against the proposed development outside HBC’s offices, said: “The decision that our council makes on Tuesday will communicate to us where their priorities lie: to represent the people of Harrogate District or the interests of a global corporation.”