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In face of opposition, Dean of Ripon seeks views on proposed cathedral annexe

07 March 2024

About 2000 people have signed a petition opposing the plans

Alistair W. Baldwin Associates

View from the transformed stonemason’s yard

View from the transformed stonemason’s yard

THE Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd John Dobson, is urging people in the diocese of Leeds to respond to an extended consultation on plans to build an annexe to the cathedral, which is said to be “bursting at the seams” (News, 17 March 2023).

Building plans for the renovation — Ripon Cathedral Renewed — have already been approved by Historic England and all the cathedral’s regulators, including the Fabric Advisory Commission. But about 2000 people have signed a petition opposing the annexe.

Ripon Cathedral was the first minster church since the Reformation to be given cathedral status, in 1836. Unlike those that came later, it was never adapted or extended in any way; consequently, it has no lavatories — the cathedral pays the council to keep open the public lavatories across the road in Minster Gardens — no safe space for choristers to change and rehearse, no refectory, no communal meeting space, and no storage space.

The project has been widely supported as beneficial to the city, local economy, and environment. Visitor numbers are expected to rise by an estimated 35 per cent, and the plans are consistent with the City Plan for the development of a Cathedral Quarter. But the process, which has been years in development, has been slowed down by the reorganisation of the local authority into a single unity council, as well as by sustained, fierce opposition to certain details (News, 11 August 2023).

One particular source of contention is the proposed felling of a 200-year-old beech tree, which was redesignated as a Veteran Tree by the Woodland Trust when the cathedral was submitting its plans.

The consultation period has been extended from January 2024 until Easter. The cathedral has published a booklet, Your Questions Answered, which sets out the proposals, and how it suggests concerns have been, or could be, met.

Dean Dobson expressed hope that, through listening, compromises might be found that would satisfy most people. He fears, however, that much of the public discourse on social media is lacking facts and distorting the conversation.

“I’m concerned that some of the people who say they aren’t supporting this may actually be ‘not supporting’ something we’re not doing,” he said on Tuesday.

“I want people to engage with this, come and see the exhibition, talk to representatives from the cathedral, and find out what the real proposals are, and then, by all means, give their comments. We are looking at how we can retain the integrity of our project and provide all the facilities that there is almost universal agreement that the cathedral needs.”

He continued: “We are keen to hear genuine concerns and [are] constantly responding to more questions. . . People who have engaged with this in a sincere and open way have been very grateful for that booklet and found it extremely helpful. I’m sorry to say that there are those people who are not wanting to engage with it, because they have already decided that they’re opposing the proposal.”

Supporters have so far raised £4.25 million to fund the project, more half the £8 million estimated cost. If the present proposals were accepted, more support would be sought. But, the Dean said, “We cannot keep going to people and exciting them with the prospect without knowing that we have got planning permission.”

He acknowledged that this would take time, and that there was also an issue of the cost of the land on which the cathedral was planning to build, which belonged to the council. “Our strategy now is simply to concentrate on finding a solution — plans that will get universal support.”

As well as the petition opposing the annexe, a local resident, Stanley Mackintosh, has sought a public referendum to allow people to “express what they really think, but in secret, free from establishment pressure”. But the leader of the city council, Andrew Williams, has opposed this. He described it as a “circus” that would deepen divisions, and city councillors have voted unanimously against it as a “waste of money”, the cost being estimated at £10,000, the BBC reports.

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