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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 8th August 2008
Is Ripon really big enough to sustain the services that its citizens would wish to see? asks David Winpenny, Co-Chairman of Ripon Civic Society

The architect Lord Rogers was asked his opinion on the lowest viable size of a settlement that would be self-sustaining – and his answer was very relevant to Ripon.

In his view, a town (or a city!) needs to have a minimum of 20,000 people in order to run all the services and have the facilities that its inhabitants need, without their going out of the place for anything except the biggest items of household goods. A community with 20,000 people could expect to have a cinema, swimming pool, leisure centre, a good range of shops of all kinds, housing for all social groups and incomes (including ‘affordable’ houses), schools, post offices, comprehensive transport links, sufficient jobs of different types to ensure that it does not become a dormitory town . . .

Ripon is not yet at the magic 20,000 figure – and, of course, it is a figure that is somewhat arbitrary, as local circumstances vary so much from place to place. Nevertheless, it is a good figure to work with. And Ripon, as a settlement with fewer than that number of citizens, is a good exemplar of what lesser communities can expect.

Some of the indicators of a viable community are already with us, of course – a leisure centre, post offices (though not as many as we had a few months ago). Our transport links are patchy – brilliant to Harrogate and Leeds, abysmal to York, for example. We have not had a railway station for 40 years. We have a swimming pool – and may get a better one. We have some excellent schools, including one that actually attracts people to move here. On the debit side, our range of shops – as many people in the Civic Society’s recent survey pointed out – is not brilliant. We have, despite years of endeavour, not yet managed to open a new cinema.

Would three or four thousand more people living in Ripon make a difference? Do we want them? And where would they live? There is no doubt that settlements have a critical mass that can tip them into greater prosperity. Ripon is, perhaps, now finely balanced on the seesaw. More inhabitants might just give that greater impetus in the right direction. Of course, there would need to be very careful planning, especially of where any new homes should go, and of what type they should be. This is, of course, something that bears heavily on the local authority, and we need to have a full debate with Harrogate Borough Council to see what is practicable.

The Local Government Association’s agency IDeA (the acronym stands for ‘Improvement and Development Agency’) has its ideals. Its website says, ‘Through the strong local leadership that councils can provide, there is at least the hope that we can create thriving economies, decent homes, good transport links and environments free of crime and anti-social behaviour. The agenda may be complex and challenging, but it’s not insurmountable. And it’s one that local government lives and breathes every day.’

If this is more than a pious hope, if it is to be a practical way forward for creating a sustainable community in Ripon, with all the services it needs and a well-planned, sensible vision for the future, it is very welcome. We hope that the council will take it on board, so that we can look to the city’s future prosperity with, maybe, more confidence than has been the case in the past.

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