Campaigners’ dismay over powers of protection granted for Harrogate’s Pinewoods

Cherished assets, and the power of communities to protect them, have sparked rallying calls from across the region.

Neil Hind Chairman of the Pinewoods Conservation Group in Harroagte walking through Pinewoods.

There were high hopes, with new rules to take on ownership should they prove to be under threat.

But amidst many success stories, there have also been disappointments over rejections, with a third of bids in the region refused outright and allegations of ‘gold-plated’ requirements in parts of the country. There are suggestions it is almost impossible to see bids passed in some areas.

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Harrogate’s 100-acre Pinewoods, one of the district’s most treasured wild landscapes, secured status as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) in 2015.

But then early planning permission was granted for development within its boundaries.

Conservation groups, set up to protect the area, say they have since become sceptical over the powers ACV offers.

“I guess it didn’t work, in the way we hoped it would,” said Neil Hind, the chairman of the Pinewoods Conservation Group.

“It didn’t give us the support or the protection that we were really looking for.”

There have been many celebrated successes under the ACV scheme.

The George and Dragon pub in North Yorkshire is now thriving under community ownership and providing a home for its own library and village store.

There are a shop and post office in Cononle and playing fields in Hellifield.

More recently, there were jubilant cries in a Sheffield council chamber as a historic spa, South Yorkshire’s last remaining Victorian bath house, secured ACV status.

In North Yorkshire, a small, now disused school, in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, has been granted protected status.

But its counterpart, in Ingleby Arncliffe, was refused, unable to demonstrate realistic prospects for community use.

There have been further refusals. A police station, a former church. A memorial hospital, a blacksmiths. All deemed to have insufficient evidence that they are of community value.

In Harrogate, the Pinewoods, owned by the district council, stretches between two of the town’s busiest scenic sites, the Valley Gardens and RHS Harlow Carr.

It is hugely popular, with dog walkers, bird watchers, runners, and families.

But the land surrounding it is highly sought after.

The conservation group had sought the ACV status in the hopes that it could protect the area from development.

“Our members were increasingly concerned about the numbers of new houses, and building sites, around our borders,” said Mr Hind.

“It’s a well loved and well used area of woodland.

“But we were in the hands of the council, and their wishes for it. “The woods were becoming more enclosed, which made it all the more important that it was kept safe.

“We felt the ACV would be something that would give the woods that extra level of protection that it didn’t have.

“This was to try and get additional protection to the 100-acre wood.”

There had been huge support for the scheme, said Mr Hinds, and the application was a straightforward process, agreed immediately.

But then, two years ago, outline planning permission was submitted for a 10 acre site within its borders which was passed.

Planners had “failed to grapple” with the site’s ACV status, the groups’ solicitors had submitted.

They argued that this should have been given “material and substantial weight”.

Harrogate Borough Council, in its report, agreed.

But, officers added, this was not considered sufficient to outweigh the economic benefits of the proposed development.

The Pinewoods Conservation Group has said it has been assured that, were full planning permission to be considered, this will be looked at again.

But, Mr Hinds added, they have still now become somewhat disillusioned with the scheme.

“It’s disappointing, as a charity with limited funds, that we had to take external legal advice,” he said.

“It hasn’t given us the level of protection we were hoping for.

“Until we see what happens, we won’t really know if it will.”

Since the scheme came into force, bids for ACV status in Harrogate have seen success rates of 28 per cent, while applications have fallen from 11 in 2015 to two last year.

A council spokesperson said: “Harrogate Borough Council has a consistent approach and an appropriate framework in place to enable nominations and assessments.

“All nominations must be able to demonstrate that the buildings or land they nominate have, or have had, an important community use and that this can, (or could) realistically continue. Where there is a lack of comprehensive evidence provided, the borough council cannot support an ACV.

“Applications have been fairly consistent since 2014 when the framework was first adopted. There was a small increase in 2015 but this was no doubt attributed to a campaign nationally to promote applications.”