CRAVEN'S cathedral - Ripon Cathedral - is in the midst of a row about plans to build a £8million annexe which it says will 'renew' the ancient place of worship and properly cater for its hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The cathedral wants to build a two-storey standalone annexe on Minster Gardens with an 80-seat refectory, gift shop, song school, additional storage space and new accessible toilets. But more than 2,000 people have signed a petition opposing the development because of the loss of trees. The cathedral has now 'paused the planning application for further consultation'.

Here, the Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson, explains why the development is needed.

OVER 1,350 years ago Wilfrid built a magnificent church here at Ripon. His crypt remains part of the outstanding cathedral we see today, the oldest built fabric of all England’s cathedrals. Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, this ancient church remains a vibrant centre of prayer and worship and is a focus of culture and the arts, with regular concerts and exhibitions.

If you have ever visited Ripon Cathedral, however, you will be fully aware that the toilet arrangements for congregations and visitors are no better than those provided by St. Wilfrid in the 7th century. We don’t have any!

Neither do we have adequate facilities for hospitality; most visitors to English cathedrals know that a properly equipped refectory is far from exceptional.

A busy cathedral, such as Ripon, needs a lot of storage space for chairs, staging and so on; Ripon Cathedral is acutely short of storage space, leading to precious parts of the building being closed to the public and the unacceptable wear and tear of ancient fabric, which is of international significance.

These needs have been evident for decades but with the renaissance that the choir is currently enjoying, there are now more than 60 choristers and choral scholars, the additional need for appropriate rehearsal space, away from the public eye, has become ever-more obvious.

As with many ancient churches and cathedrals, the cathedral’s long-term sustainability cannot be taken for granted. Finances have improved in recent years, but more is required if the building and fabric are to be maintained and conserved for the future.

Ripon Cathedral, one of three cathedrals in the Diocese of Leeds, takes great joy and pride from working with its sister cathedrals in Bradford and Wakefield in serving the Bishop and Diocese of Leeds. In a cathedral determined to extend a meaningful mission to the bishop, diocese and region, it was clear something simply had to happen. Ripon Cathedral Renewed, was established in 2016. Since then, many options for providing all the necessary facilities have been considered. Safeguarding requirements for all, including our choristers and school parties, are paramount in these considerations. Proximity is also key, both for safeguarding and for those with reduced mobility and disabilities.

In 2019 we thought we had found the answer – a single integrated facility attached to the south of the cathedral nave. Sadly, at the eleventh hour, Historic England, the public body which ensures the conservation and appropriate development of heritage buildings and their contexts, judged that this was too detrimental to the view of the West Front of the cathedral, thought to be one of the finest examples of Early English Architecture anywhere in the world.

Over the next couple of years Historic England worked extremely constructively with us to find another solution. Along with our other regulators, they encouraged us to develop plans for a single, integrated, environmentally efficient building to the north of the cathedral.

The Ripon City Plan of 2017 had encouraged the cathedral’s chapter (governing body) to develop plans for a cathedral quarter and this north side development was judged to open up the cathedral to the city, making much better connections with the main car parks. It will also bring significant economic benefits to the local businesses with an expected 35per cent increase in visitor numbers.

Unfortunately 11 trees would need to be felled but a mitigation plan would result in more public green space and greater biodiversity, with 21 trees planted on site, six of which are mature, and 300 on land at nearby Studley.

A several-month exhibition and consultation period took place in 2022, with the submission of a planning application in December of that year.

The application has the approval of two significant national bodies, Historic England and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England - the ultimate authority relating to the care of the nation's cathedrals, as well as our own statutory planning authority the independent Fabric Advisory Committee.

We at the cathedral however remain keen to hear all views and all possible constructive suggestions and are once again asking people to consider our plans by visiting the exhibition in the cathedral or viewing it online, both invite feedback. We are keen to hear the strength of support, as well as the views of those who have concerns or who cannot agree with our present proposals. My hope is that we will be able to navigate a way through the many suggestions, to find a solution which will be acceptable to most people and satisfy the undeniable needs of the many thousands of people who value Ripon Cathedral.