Retail development under threat

An artist's impression of the planned hotel, which would be located on an access road off the A61 Ripon bypass. (S)
An artist's impression of the planned hotel, which would be located on an access road off the A61 Ripon bypass. (S)

A major retail and hotel development in Ripon is under threat after bureaucratic delays have left it in planning limbo for almost a year.

Supermarket giant Morrisons’ plans for a site south of Ripon have still to go before the planning committee despite being in the hands of Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) planners for almost 12 months.

A senior Morrisons executive has written to the council with concerns over “significant” delays.

The company’s Head of Acquisitions North, James Brook, said: “We are now having detailed discussions for both the hotel and the existing unit for DIY/ garden use. The lack of progress with the application could jeopardise the commitment of the parties involved.”

The company revealed its development plans in March 2011 and submitted them to the council two months later after a series of pre application meetings – ten months later the application has still not been heard at a planning committee meeting.

Mr Brook wrote directly to HBC’s chief planning official on Friday, March 16, with a warning about the damage any more delays could cause.

The scheme proposed by supermarket chain includes a hotel, DIY store and business units, as well as a new superstore on the edge of a city, but with proposals still undecided uncertainty now hangs over the hotel and DIY store plans.

Andrew Cooper, Morrisons’ Development Executive, said: “Our proposals for Ripon represent a significant investment for the city, providing a variety of beneficial uses, including a much needed hotel, in addition to the Morrisons foodstore. The scheme will generate between 840 and 880 new jobs in the employment, hotel and retail sectors (some 620 to 660 more than our existing store provides).

“Since the application was submitted in May 2010 we have reacted speedily to requests from the council for further information, and we now consider that this important project should be considered at committee without further delay.”

The scheme has seen bureaucratic wranglings as council officials and Morrisons’ planning agents battle to decide finer details of the plans, including possible “planning gain” contributions from Morrisons to the community.

Discussions have gone on over traffic, noise pollution, tree planting, and even the chance bat roosts could be disturbed at the site.

A council spokeswoman has defended the planning process, saying the case is still under consideration and officials need to assess all aspects before making a decision.

She said: “Several key issues, including the relationship with and likely impact on the city centre, have required careful consideration. Officers are hoping to resolve any outstanding matters and present the application to the planning committee in May.

“Whilst there are target timescales for the determining of all planning applications, it is important that all aspects of any application are properly considered before a decision is made. This is important for both sides and, of course, for all the district’s residents and businesses.”

But with the company disappointed by the delays Mr Brook said they reserved the right to “appeal for non decision”, a process that would take the application out of the council’s hands.

The council said it was too early to say whether Morrisons might be asked to make any “planning gain” payments under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, but in correspondence between the company’s agents and council officials the supermarket giant has made provisional offers to subsidise bus routes.

l What do you think of Morrisons plans for Ripon? Write to The Editor, Ripon Gazette, 5a Kirkgate, Ripon, HG4 1PA, email news@ripongazette.co.uk or Tweet us @RiponRover.