Earl's TV soap upsets ramblers

Grade I row: Plan to build new set for 'Emmerdale Farm' at ancestral home sparks fears over damage to the environment
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The Independent Online
Conservationists are angry over plans by the Earl of Harewood to allow a television company to build a replica of the set featured in its popular soap opera Emmerdale on his 4,000-acre estate near Leeds.

Yorkshire TV (YTV) has applied for temporary consent to construct a 26- building replica of the set in artificial stone and plywood on a 12-acre site about a mile south of Harewood House, the Queen's cousin's magnificent ancestral home.

Although the site is outside Harewood House's Grade I registered parkland, landscaped by Capability Brown, it is none the less in a Special Landscape Area within the green belt, and protesters, led by the Ramblers' Association, fear the scheme would have damaging environmental consequences.

The plan, which would involve the building of new versions of Emmerdale landmarks, such as the Woolpack public house, as well as the restoration of some redundant Grade II listed cottages and farm buildings, could provide YTV with its exterior set for the next 10 years.

If it is approved, insiders believe the deal, yet to be finalised between YTV and Harewood House, could be worth pounds 2m to the Earl, who has a long association with the arts world, and is a former chairman of the English National Opera.

The Earl has allowed YTV to film on his land for more than 25 years, and it has been used as the backdrop to series such as Heartbeat and A Touch of Frost as well as Emmerdale.

The opposition to the plan is being led by the Ramblers' Association which has already lodged an objection with Leeds City Council, due to consider the scheme later this month. It has also appealed to John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, to call in the application for a public inquiry.

Frank Reynolds, chairman of the West Riding Ramblers' Association, described the proposal as "horrific". He said: "If this were a fully habitable village or a commercial or industrial scheme on the same scale it would be rejected out of hand ... Yet an industrial scheme is exactly what it is.

"What we would have here would be a set for commercial TV production involving the same intensity of work, travel and traffic as any other industry - in this case 80 vehicle movements a day using cinder tracks and bridleways."

One of the ramblers' principle objections is that the site is bounded by two important footpaths and bridleways, which they argue will be "either spoiled or compromised" if the scheme goes ahead.

Clive Fox, spokesman for the local branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, which is also objecting to the scheme, said: "This is a straightforward commercial venture which would not stand a cat-in-hell's chance of being approved in a green belt if it was going to be a real village. It would be a huge intrusion." He also said it would be "naive" to think that the village would go away after 10 years.

Christopher Ussher, resident agent for Harewood House, dismissed the objections, describing the site of the proposed village as "ordinary farmland".

"We have chosen this location precisely because there will be minimal environmental impact", he said, adding that Harewood believed the scheme would be "fantastic for rural jobs", and would bring other benefits to the community.

Mr Ussher rejected the ramblers' claims that the scheme would affect public access. "The site is not on a public right of way", he said. "Access would be via a private farm road we've offered to YTV. There will be shared use of about 200 metres of one public right of way but vehicle movements will be strictly limited ... the set will be returned to a green-field site."

A spokesman for Yorkshire TV, which has filmed Emmerdale at Esholt, near Bradford, for the past 10 years, occasionally visiting Harewood for location shooting, said yesterday: "We ... need to move to cope with broadcasting three episodes of Emmerdale a week from next year. We think the Harewood House estate site ... could be achieved without any adverse affects on the environment and public rights of way."