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Permission sought for £6-million annexe to Ripon Cathedral

17 March 2023

Alistair W Baldwin Associates

View from the courthouse

View from the courthouse

RIPON CATHEDRAL is seeking planning permission for a new annexe, which would include a song school, refectory, gift shop, lavatories, and storage space, in a building described as “bursting at the seams”.

It would be built on Minster Gardens, public land to the north of the cathedral and adjacent to the Old Courthouse Museum. The Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd John Dobson, said on Monday that new facilities would greatly benefit the local economy in bringing an estimated 32-per-cent increase in visitor numbers to the cathedral, and hence to the city.

Historic England (HE) supports the proposals, describing the cathedral, in its response to Harrogate Borough Council on 3 March, as “one of the most precious heritage sites that has come down to us from the Middle Ages.

“There is also a welcome aspiration to integrate the Cathedral more into the life of the city, to provide facilities to continue with its choral traditions, remove damaging clutter from the interior, and to provide some basic facilities which are currently lacking to all types of Cathedral users.”

The cathedral has been encouraged by its support, as it was HE’s last-minute opposition, three years ago, to a different solution — an annexe on the south side — that led to its abandonment. The heritage body was unhappy about a building sited so close to the west front.

Ripon, which celebrated its 1350th anniversary last year, has, in the Dean’s words, “to manage plans in microscopic detail” when it comes to accommodating events. Its complete lack of lavatory facilities means that people have to use public lavatories across the road, which the cathedral pays the Borough Council to keep open.

There are no refreshment facilities. The storage problems, which have made many of the historic parts of the building inaccessible to visitors, were identified 20 years ago by the Cathedrals Fabric Commission (CFC): “We are living with these day-to day pressures and tensions all the time,” he said.

Alistair W Baldwin AssociatesView from the transformed stonemason’s yard

He sees the establishment of a song school as another key priority: “Music has been a life force here since the seventh century, when Wilfrid brought the chant from Canterbury.” Until 2012, Ripon had a choir school. The choir, which is currently using a Norman undercroft in the building, has had a revival under a new director of music, Ronny Krippner.

There were many challenges when the Dean arrived in 2014, he says: the cathedral was, financially, the worst-performing in the country. It was estimated to have nine years left before it would have to close. Consultations over 18 months resulted in the mission Growing God’s Kingdom and the cathedral’s reaching an operations surplus for the first time in 40 years — something that it has sustained.

Possibilities for providing the new facilities in the cathedral estate have been explored over the past decade. The current plans have largely met with approval. Ripon Together, a city-wide organisation that brings bodies and individuals together, describes the cathedral as a key part of the visitor offering for the Dales, and this part of Yorkshire.

It acknowledges: “Events that might otherwise take place in the building go elsewhere, or do not happen, due to the poor facilities available for hospitality, including refreshments and toilets. Furthermore, people cannot enjoy the Cathedral as they should be able to, as it is cluttered due to the lack of off-site storage. A more practical and welcoming Cathedral Quarter would greatly benefit the social and economic life of the city.

“We welcome the current proposal, as it would improve a rather scruffy and largely unused area, creating a much improved and managed environment for visitors and residents alike.”

But, while agreeing with the cathedral’s view that the new annexe would contribute to its sustainable future, and enhance the city of Ripon, Ripon Civic Society takes issue with the location of the new building on Minster Gardens. It has declared the application “unacceptable”, and deems consultation with the Ripon community inadequate.

It is concerned, too, for the loss of open space and trees — 11 would have to be felled, including a veteran beech — and continues to urge consideration of the cathedral’s stoneyard land, previously rejected as an alternative site for the new building. A recently installed memorial garden commemorates the end of the First World War. The new plans include mitigation for the loss of the trees, with 300 to be planted elsewhere in the city.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the Old Deanery are also objecting to the planning application. The Chapter leased the Grade II listed building to Layton Hills Hotels in 2021, for a 20-year period, and the group plans to open it as a hotel and restaurant. It suggests that the new proposals would put the cathedral facilities in direct competition with the hotel.

Alistair W Baldwin AssociatesView of transformed gardens

The plans fit well with the city plan for a cathedral quarter. It was hoped that they would go before the Borough Council on 28 March, but that has not yet been confirmed. The situation is complicated by the fact that the Borough Council is to be dissolved in a local authority reorganisation, which will result in a single unity council, the North Yorkshire Council, within which local committees will deal with planning issues.

Funding pledges from supporters when the former plans looked to be going ahead, three years ago, amounted to £4 million. That support would be sought again, and more fund-raising embarked on, if the present proposals were accepted. The new building is estimated to cost about £8 million.

The Dean acknowledged, “There is still a way to go, and fund-raising on a large scale would have to happen, but people across the county tell us they support the plans. We are in for the long haul, but this is a clear vision related to Growing God’s Kingdom.”

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