The battle of Claro Barracks
The Government has insisted that the MOD sell their surplus land. Like Yorkshire farmers, selling land is not something that comes easy to the MOD and if they must, they will want the best price.
Homes England is a Government body tasked with increasing the number of new homes that are built in England. They are in partnership with the MOD and their main objective is to build new homes. The Government has housing targets and the Prime Minister, whoever it may be, wants to tell us that he/she has built more homes than those that came before. Controversially, recent government policy has resulted in allowing houses in offices with no windows. Whilst not the intention of the policy, it indicates that the objective is for more, headline numbers are more important than quality.
So the two proponents of the development of Ripon Barracks want the most money they can get and the maximum number of houses. Fortunately for them, these two objectives are mutually supportive.
There is of course a third party. The people of Ripon. They can expect a large increase in population. If the 1300 homes average three persons per dwelling that represents nearly 4000 new residents. The 2011 census showed a population of 16,702. It will therefore add the equivalent of an additional quarter of the population.
Will the development bring benefits to the City and the residents. That will depend on the negotiating skills and commitment to Ripon, of Harrogate Borough Council. It would seem that the Army and the Government versus the local council is an unfair fight. Well the army are not allowed to use weapons of mass destruction or even hand to hand combat. They do however have people and friends in high places.
The Council in their armoury have a shiny new local plan. The law says decisions must be made in accordance with the development plan. But hang on, it hasn’t yet been adopted. The closing date for comments on the draft master plan was set at 6 September 2019. An application is promised before the end of 2019. It might be considered that Government departments, not known for their speed, being able to take into account all the comments from the consultation, re-think the development if necessary, then prepare an application, all in less than four months, must surely be fanciful. A sceptic may perhaps suggest that having the application in place before the Local Plan is adopted is the main reason for the haste.
The people of Ripon have been promised beneficial development for many years and within the space of a few months, all is to be decided. But we have the Ripon Plan. Unfortunately, that simply encourages such development without setting out clearly what is required in the City. There is Government Advice. This is perhaps are best hope. It requires good design. Safe accessible places. Sustainability!
So what is wrong with the development?
Ripon has two secondary schools. Close to a thousand 11-18 year olds already travel to Harrogate, Boroughbridge, Pately Bridge, Thirsk and Knaresburough to go to school. Parents of Ripon pay well in excess of £700 a year for each travelling child. Would parents of Harrogate tolerate this? £700,000 payed by Ripon residents just to get their kids to school not to mention the 6:30am starts and the late finishes enjoyed by the students. What does the Local Plan say? What does the Ripon Plan say? Not much. We are planning for the next generation of residents yet their education is simply being ignored. There are not enough school spaces in Ripon for the existing population and the children of the new development will have a more tortuous journey from the wrong end of town.
Ripon has a number of thriving sports clubs. Rugby, football, running, cycling, triathlon spring to mind. How much thought has been given to these. Two areas are shown for sports pitches, one is an area adjacent to Galphay Lane. The supporting changing facilities are shown in the woods (which are also to be retained) and the pitches themselves are on scrub land that has not been in any positive use for many years. The clubs in the centre of town have security issues that they struggle to deal with. A remote changing facility in a remote area of the countryside is a particularly poor idea.
Ripon needs a 4G pitch, it needs a running track and it needs a cycle track all of which can be accommodated within the development area, where they will be accessible by roads with footpaths and street lights and the necessary facilities that go with them would benefit from some surveillance from being within the developed area. These facilities need to be costed and included within any offer. Unfortunately, the Local Plan and the Ripon Plan do not address shortfalls or such requirements and suggests the destruction of the football and rugby club. The facilities required by the rugby and football clubs need to be considered individually. Mallorie Park is not a housing development site. Any new facilities for these clubs and additional facilities required for the larger population need to be of a high quality and appropriately located.
Homes England suggest that no pitches would be lost. This is disingenuous at best with high quality pitches being built on with the offer of scrub land replacements in the middle of nowhere. A consultation exercise asking for public opinion with regard to land not accessible to the public shows a distinct disregard for the process.
Walking and cycling are key components of achieving more healthy life styles and it is welcomed that the land which is not developable within the flood plain is allocated for recreation and paths. However, the main pedestrian thoroughfare is shown to deposit residents onto Galphay Lane. This is a narrow country lane with no footpath and fast moving cars. Access within the site to the areas closest to Tates Nursery and the footpath adjacent to it could be achieved, exposing walkers to minimum conflict with road users and the shortest link to the paths to Studley and the cricket club. This suggests very little regard has been had to this matter by the producers of the master plan and Ripon deserves better.
The proposers have provided no information with regard to traffic movements other than suggestions that junction improvements may be required. There is no easy solution to increasing the population in an area that already has poor road links to favourite destinations such as Harrogate and the A1. It is imperative therefore that the area is as self-contained as possible, minimising the need to travel. A bus route would be welcomed but needs to be funded. Cycle routes are not shown. Sports facilities will rely heavily on private vehicle parking and this needs to be considered with regard to the size of the land offered. The masterplan avoids any such detail. At no point does it show connectivity with surrounding footpaths or bridal ways.
The evidence base for the masterplan is not provided which makes sensible consideration of it impossible as does the lack of public access to some of the areas. It should represent sustainable development but this is not addressed.
It is ironic that the Ripon Plan was all about avoiding allocating housing so as not to upset residents but in doing so, it also failed to address what is actually needed for the residents of the City into the future. This proposal is all about maximising housing whilst also failing to even attempt to address the actual needs of the residents of the City into the future. This site and the land to the east towards Palace Road represent the most practical expansion areas for the City over the next 50 years due to the river systems and Gypsum deposits. They need to provide for the existing and future residents. This proposal pretty much just provides housing. Let us hope Harrogate Borough Council planning officers and elected members are able to withstand the pressure from the Government departments to ensure that the area makes a positive contribution to the City rather than just adding to congestion and journeys out of the City.