Special report: Ripon residents demand 'better planning' of huge new housing development on army barracks site

North Yorkshire’s countryside is a hotspot for new developments, creating conflict in normally peaceful towns and villages

The old army barracks site in Ripon is earmarked for a huge new housing development
The old army barracks site in Ripon is earmarked for a huge new housing development

Planning rules seem an abstract concept until they land on your own doorstep.

That is a lesson increasingly being learned in towns and villages across the region but especially in the Harrogate district, where thousands of new homes have been approved in recent years in dozens of developments.

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With the Government’s renewed push for more homes to be built across the country, especially in Yorkshire where home-building rates are some of the lowest in the UK, the arrival of so many large planning proposals is creating huge and sometimes heated conflicts between developers, councils and residents.

Thousands of homes would be built, extending the compact cathedral city

Perhaps surprisingly, the consistent message from communities opposing these developments is that they are actually welcome, but they need to be thought out better.

Last month, one group of Harrogate residents rejoiced after their year-long campaign against the building of 700 homes to the east of the town centre resulted in the rejection of the scheme by the council’s planning committee.

But homes need to be built somewhere and, with the district much sought-after, Harrogate Council, like many across Yorkshire, is approving developments to ensure the number of new homes meets rising demand.

Earlier this year, planning inspectors backed a new 3,000-home village, called Maltkiln, on land in the Green Hammerton, Kirk Hammerton and Cattal area of the Harrogate district.

A residents' group has formed to demand action

Government inspectors have raised some issues with the plans, but it is likely that the development will go ahead in some form.

Chris Eaton, Kirk Hammerton resident and co-chairman of the Keep the Hammertons Green Action Group, which has been campaigning against the development since 2016, said residents were frustrated with the level of community engagement and the persistence with a location that does not seem to be in anyone’s interest.

He said: “It’s sandwiching 3,000 homes between ancient villages and risking destroying the character and setting – there are better locations in the district, especially for a development of this size. There’s no logic to it.”

He added that neighbouring villages have been pitted against each other and forced to back developments elsewhere in the hope their own area will be spared.

Mike Chambers, Conservative councillor for the Ripon Spa ward of Harrogate Council, said: “It’s an attractive area. It sits on the edge of the Dales and is surrounded by historic market towns, and is close to Leeds, which is a business centre. It has an appeal.

“But it would appear that [the developments] have all come at once.”

So why so many developments in a short space of time? Mr Chambers puts this down to the three-year window between having planning permission granted and the deadline for beginning development, which he says is “too long” and is something the Government is seeking to reduce to stop developers sitting on land or delaying projects.

Battle over barracks

Mr Chambers is well versed in planning as, in a few short years, his ward has been the subject of many proposals, including separate developments of 400 homes, 150 homes, 40 homes and, as of last week, a 1,300-home village at the old Ripon barracks.

The development, known as Clotherholme, was submitted for planning permission in a partnership between Homes England and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. Many of those who live locally are part of Ripon Spa Residents Action Group, which is fighting the development in its current form. The group’s list of concerns about the proposed development is long and varied.

Barbara Brodigan lives near the land and is a member of the group. She told The Yorkshire Post that the main issue was a lack of road infrastructure as, although the proposed development includes new roads, cycle routes and improved traffic lights, there are no plans to upgrade Ripon’s historic, narrow roads to cope with hundreds of extra vehicles.

She said: “This could increase the local population by 25 per cent, as it’s essentially building a town on the side of Ripon.

“Ripon has a population of about 19,000 people, all who are travelling on the same busy roads. There’s no railway, public transport here is bad, people have to use a car to get around.

“Who wants to sit in congestion? Who wants air pollution?”

Campaigners claim the development is being driven by profit with not enough community development and that the traffic impact assessment was deliberately carried out in June 2019, during one of the quietest periods on local roads, to reduce the obligation to invest in infrastructure.

This is something Homes England denies, telling The Yorkshire Post that the assessments were carried out “in line with national guidance” and were agreed by North Yorkshire County Council. Homes England also said it does not make a profit as it is a public body.

The residents group has launched a petition calling for transport improvements before any new homes are built, which has nearly 400 signatures.

Compounding the transport complaints, local campaigners said they were concerned about how few jobs would be created on the site. The plans include a primary school, sports facilities and shops, with an expectation that the village would appeal to home-workers.

However, concerns were raised that the houses and flats may become packed with commuters. The lack of a secondary school was a major worry too, as the two secondary schools in the area are already oversubscribed.

The Yorkshire Post understands that, during discussions with North Yorkshire County Council it was decided that the development would not be the best place for a new secondary school and developers will probably make a financial contribution to neighbouring secondary schools to help them increase capacity and ensure there are enough pupil places to serve the population.

City ‘cannot stand still’

Paul Wright, an IT manager who lives next door to the development, said that, although he agreed with the issues with the roads which he said were already a “nightmare” at times, he also felt more houses would be a good thing for Ripon.

“It’s going to bring income into the city. The city cannot stand still, it’s got to grow, especially as the population is getting older.”

This is an issue echoed by Hannah Ruddy, who said Ripon was in need of financial investment and more younger people, something that the development would bring.

She is part of a group raising cash for an arts centre in Ripon, which will display work by artists, host music and theatre, and act as a community hub.

“I grew up in Harrogate, which is a nice town with lots of opportunities and things to do. In comparison, Ripon is overlooked and doesn’t have the same facilities,” she said.

After multiple rounds of community engagement, where Homes England said it “listened to local people”, residents are now hoping the council will take their concerns into account when making the decision over whether to grant the planning permission and not simply write them off as NIMBYs who want to keep outsiders out.

Ms Brodigan said: “We’re not against more houses. Ripon needs that. All we’re asking them to do is plan it properly, and then everyone’s happy.”