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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 16th November 2008
What do we value in Ripon? What is most prized in the city? DAVID WINPENNY, Co-Chairman of Ripon Civic Society ponders questions are prompted by a suggestion in a letter to last week’s Ripon Gazette that ‘the most precious commodity in Ripon is a car parking space.’

The ability to park a car easily around the city is, of course, important, not just so that shoppers can reach the shops and other traders, but also because visitors to the city can be put off by parking problems. Yet this only a small part the whole picture.

Everyone’s list of what makes Ripon individual and attractive will be different. For some people the shops will be the attraction. For others, the cathedral, the rivers and the canal draw them to the city. The ease with which we can reach some of the country’s most stunning scenery is important – and so are the pleasures of easy walks within a few minutes of the centre. Then there are the clubs and societies, the sports, the racecourse – the lists can be multiplied almost indefinitely.

High on the Civic Society’s order of the most precious assets is the fabric of the city – the buildings and the streetscapes that make Ripon what it is. These include the cathedral, of course, and the other listed buildings in the city, like the Wakeman’s House, the Town Hall, the Old Deanery and the obelisk. And it’s not just the most important buildings with which the Society concerns itself. Its remit is to preserve and enhance Ripon’s historic buildings, certainly, but also to promote conservation projects in the city and, as importantly, to encourage the best in architecture, planning and design. This means that the Society takes an interest in all aspects of the city’s built environment – and the way that it is used.

The Market Square is a very pertinent case. Ripon Civic Society was a principal player in the refurbishment of the Square – its vision of an improved and enhanced historic city centre was (eventually!) embraced by other groups and the work was undertaken. With half the Square made traffic-free, we began to see the real value of such a great civic space for events, for relaxation and for the views of the city that were opened up when empty of the cars that for so long had marred it.

While the new development goes on to the west, the whole Square is once again a car park. This cannot be allowed to become a permanent feature. Ripon has a precious and invaluable asset with the Market Square – it should be seen, along with the cathedral, as the city’s greatest attraction, where visitors and local people can stroll freely, where markets are held – perhaps where you can sit out and enjoy coffee in the sunshine. Think of some of the great squares on the continent – entirely free from traffic, with room to breathe, to enjoy the surrounding buildings and to stroll to your heart’s content without taking your life in your hands as traffic rushes round you.

Ripon should have the vision to see the Market Square as one of its greatest features, which should be the envy of most towns around the country. Don’t let the blinkered ideas of people who see only a car park blind us to its great qualities. Instead, let’s strive towards an entirely car-free Square. In other places where this is done, they have found it a great stimulus both to trade and to tourism. It may take a while, and, yes, parking needs to be sorted. But that is not an excuse for not attempting it. Return the Square to the people rather than the cars! Then we really will have something precious.

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