Ripon Cathedral: Independent traders angry after unearthed documents show 'desire to prevent tourists using city's cafes'

An aim of a new refectory that could be built as part of Ripon Cathedral’s £6m expansion plans is to “prevent visitors from drifting away from the cathedral and using the various cafes in the city” — according to planning documents submitted by the cathedral.

A proposal to house a song school, cafe and toilet in a two-storey building on Minster Gardens was submitted to Harrogate Council in December.

But some business owners have said they fear the scheme could “funnel” tourists away from city centre.

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This month, campaigner and retired chartered engineer Stanley Mackintosh unearthed in planning documents a reference to the proposed refectory, which he said confirms the fears of traders and cafe owners in Ripon.

Ripon Cathedral and city streetsRipon Cathedral and city streets
Ripon Cathedral and city streets

The design and access statement, submitted by the cathedral in December 2022, said: “Cathedral Refectory: for this to be a financially viable part of the cathedral business plan it needs to be a certain size, to accomodate a coach party, and be very close to the cathedral. This is required to prevent visitors from drifting away from the cathedral and using the various cafes in the city.”

The comments are likely to further anger traders who have long argued that the expansion will harm businesses in the city centre.

A Ripon Cathedral spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the statement was written by an architect and has been “taken out of context”.

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At a Ripon City Council meeting in February, the Dean of Ripon Rev John Dobson, said he believes the proposals will “deliver more business” for businesses in Ripon.

However, Mr Mackintosh told the LDRS that the cathedral’s own design and access statement confirms the scheme will damage livelihoods.

He said: “Such unfair competition was plainly intended to deprive local cafes and traders of income, irrespective of the damage to the very livelihoods of those who serve the Ripon tourist economy.

“The Dean and Chapter and their supporters have flatly denied this repeatedly in public meetings and in written materials and have even claimed that they envisioned the visitor increases of around 30 per cent would increase business for local traders.

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“That disgraceful ambition has now been exposed in their own words in their design and access statement as submitted with their planning application: ‘This is required to prevent visitors drifting away from the cathedral and using the various cafes in the city’.”

North Yorkshire Council will make a decision on the plans at a later date.

Ripon Cathedral’s response

A Ripon Cathedral spokesperson told the LDRS that the design and access statement that refers to the refectory would be updated to “ensure it’s much clearer”.

They said: “The project has been designed from the very beginning to benefit the whole of Ripon and the wider area. Ripon Cathedral exists to serve the people of the city, the Diocese of Leeds, and the wider region. And we need the new building to ensure that continues to be the case. The sentence to which you refer, when taken out of context of the wider planning submission, could misrepresent what we’re planning.

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“As would be expected, the design and access statement was written by our architects and may not express clearly enough the aspirations of the project. The refectory – which we hope will be run by local business people or existing café owners – would enable us to extend the attractiveness of the cathedral to coach companies who are not currently bringing coach parties to the cathedral because of a lack of toilets and refreshment facilities that can cope with 50-60 people.

“With this as an integral part of the plan, research suggests that visitor numbers to the cathedral could increase by more than a third in the first five years (as outlined in our submission on the economic impact), which will have a significant effect on visitors to the city overall – and 47 per cent of visitors to a city referenced the cathedral as their driver for the visit.

“This will obviously have a positive knock-on financial impact on businesses within the city, as well as support the long-term financial sustainability of the cathedral. As the dean and others have made clear in public statements and in conversation with business and café owners around the city – this project is good for everyone and isn’t intended to impact anyone in anything but a positive way.

“As a result of your question, we are in the process of updating the design and access statement to ensure it is much clearer, and we ask anyone who has any concerns or would like to discuss specific aspects of the project to get in touch with the cathedral directly at [email protected].”