Harrogate Spring Water: Controversial plans return as company vows to plant 1,200 new trees
At the planning committee in January 2021, former Harlow Hill representative Jim Clark, who died last year, described the firm as “neighbours from hell” before councillors threw out the controversial proposals which by then had generated unwanted negative national attention for the company and the town.
The decision delighted some local residents and green groups such as the Pinewoods Conservation Group but Harrogate Spring Water is back again to try and win over the Harrogate public and councillors on the emotive issue of trees.
It unveiled plans to replace 450 trees that would be chopped down in Rotary Wood to expand its current premises on Harlow Moor Road with 1,200 young trees in an area behind the Pinewoods.
The area will be open to the public and the new proposal goes much further than what was previously being offered on land behind RHS Harlow Carr.
Managing director Richard Hall told the Local Democracy Reporting Service at the company’s headquarters this afternoon that mistakes were made during the previous planning application.
Mr Hall said: “It was our own fault we got some of the negative feedback, not all of it, some of it we may not agree with, but largely we didn’t approach the previous planning application in the best way. We didn’t bring the local community with us. We hope the community can see we’re a growing business, we’re investing and growing jobs.”
The company currently has 80 people working at the site but it hopes to add 50 more jobs if a Reserved Matters application goes ahead. It already secured outline permission for the expansion in 2017, which is still valid.
New roles would be created on the production line and in engineering and management, which Mr Hall said will benefit people living in the town.
Harrogate Spring Water makes a large chunk of its money by supplying hotels, restaurants and airlines around the world — sectors that were badly hit by the Covid pandemic.
It is attempting to bounce back and its latest annual financial accounts published last month said that trading is now returning to pre-Covid levels.
However, the firm still made losses of almost £1.8m last year, which surely ups the stakes for the expansion.
So how crucial is a larger bottling plant to the company’s future?
Mr Hall said Danone is committed to Harrogate Spring Water for the long-term even if the new plans are refused.
He said: “Covid was very difficult. We’re confident in the brand, we’ve got a great workforce, it’s stable and we’ve brought it in line with the Danone norms. Everything is moving in the right direction for growth. We hope the community can support us. We’re not thinking at all about selling or not succeeding. We’re thinking this is a fantastic local business that should get support.”
But after the Cain family sold the business to French multinational Danone in February 2020 its claim of being a local company no longer stacks up in the eyes of some residents.
Mr Hall himself is a Danone company man, having spent more than two decades working for the firm in Japan before moving to Harrogate in 2022 to lead Harrogate Spring Water.
He said Danone’s investment has meant better working conditions, training and opportunities for its Harrogate-based staff.
The distintive black or grey Harrogate Spring Water bottles are sold far and wide and it’s often surprising where you can find them.
Some in Harrogate look at the company’s success as a badge of pride whereas others wince at the town’s association with plastic water bottles.
According to a report published by World Wildlife Fund last year, 88% of marine species it studied are affected by severe contamination of plastic in the ocean. The report said that many animals have ingested these plastics, including animals commonly consumed by humans.
Mr Hall admitted that plastic can do more for the environment and said he wants a deposit return scheme to encourage recycling implemented to help minimise the product’s impact.
“We’re proud of it,” he added. “We also recognise that some people think plastic isn’t a great packaging material. It’s not something we agree with. We need to take responsibility for our packaging and make sure there’s a system that collects and recycles plastic. What we’re really offering to consumers is a fantastic premium water that is healthy.”
The David Attenborough-hosted wildlife series Planet Earth is currently back on our TV screens. When it was last on in 2016 its images of water bottles in the oceans were vital in changing the public’s perception of plastic. So does Mr Hall see Harrogate Spring Water as part of the problem or the solution?
He said plastic is something “we need to address.”
Mr Hall added: “On the one hand it’s a fantastic material on the other hand it’s leaking out of the system and finding itself in rivers and the sea.
“We think the challenge is how to use less of it but also to make sure it doesn’t leak. Plastic can be recycled and it’s low carbon compared to a can or glass. If we want to get to a low carbon economy we need to be collecting the plastic and recycling it.”
A public consultation event about the plans is set to take place later this month with details announced soon on the following website: https://www.harrogatespring.com/facility-extension/