They were promised a life of peace and quiet in a new-build “garden village” on the edge of a pretty Herefordshire town with cycle routes, allotments and wildlife-friendly ponds giving the settlement an eco-friendly vibe.
But residents of St Mary’s Garden Village in Ross-on-Wye are up in arms after McDonald’s put in a planning application for a 24-hour drive-through within metres of their homes that they say could lead to almost 2,500 cars a day passing close to their front doors.
They have launched a campaign against the proposal, arguing that if Herefordshire council were to give it the go-ahead it would contravene commitments it made after declaring a climate emergency, including working to reduce car use.
The residents argue it is not a case of nimbyism – though most do not want the fast food firm as a neighbour – but believe there is an important principle at stake: if councils declare a climate emergency they should do everything in their power to tackle it.
Villagers are particularly angry at an email from a council officer to a McDonald’s agent in which he suggests a “McHive” (a beehive in the shape of a McDonald’s) could be built at the site, adding this could bring “mutually interesting and beneficial PR”.
Residents fear this sort of remark shows the council is not taking the climate crisis seriously enough and will look favourably on the plan.
One resident, Debbie Hall, expressed deep concern at the number of “light vehicles” that planning documents say are expected – 2,444 a day.
“This is completely at odds with Herefordshire council’s own declaration of a climate emergency and stated commitment to net zero carbon,” she said. “We want the council to conduct a proper analysis of the long-term impact the restaurant would have on the local and global environment rather than simply approving the planning.”
Another, Julia Batty, said the beehive suggestion was “laughable” and showed the council was not serious about addressing the climate emergency. She said the McDonald’s, which would be on a prominent junction, would make a “horrible gateway” to Ross.
Sue Williams, the secretary of the Ross business association and owner of an art gallery in the town, said business people were concerned.
“The last 18 months have been desperate for the hospitality sector,” she said. Cafes and restaurants in Ross depended on people driving into the town rather than stopping at a fast food place on the edge of it, Williams argued. The development would have a knock-on effect on other businesses.
“We need footfall, not a drive-through,” she added.
Herefordshire council, which declared a climate emergency in 2019, said it intended to “accelerate a reduction of emissions” and “aspire” to become carbon neutral by 2030-31.
Ellie Chowns, the council’s cabinet member for environment, said at the time: “Climate and ecological change is a huge challenge that we must face together and I am proud to say that Herefordshire council is leading the way in tackling climate and ecological issues. Residents, community organisations and businesses can join us by making their own changes, from making homes more energy-efficient, reducing and recycling waste and choosing alternatives to car travel.”
There are challenges. According to the council’s figures, transport contributes 36% to Herefordshire’s carbon emissions. It says much of Herefordshire is rural with limited access to public transport and the county has an elderly and increasingly ageing population. “This makes access to services difficult and encourages car use,” a council briefing document says.
The council said it could not talk at the moment about the McDonald’s proposal as it was conducting a consultation and all material would be assessed by the planning committee and determined against the development plan.
A briefing note from McDonald’s on the proposal said the 24-hour restaurant would provide 65 jobs and deliver GBP52,500 a year in business rates. Under a section on “looking after the local environment” it said it would keep the site tidy, have recycling facilities and added it was committed to sourcing all its packaging from renewable and recyclable materials by 2025. It did not explicitly mention the climate emergency.
A spokesperson for the company said: “We strive to be a good neighbour in every community we serve. We are working closely with Herefordshire council on this proposal, and have outlined a number of sustainability measures we’ll be incorporating to the design to help ensure we are mitigating any impact this may have on the environment and surrounding areas.”
An email from a planning officer to the McDonald’s agent for the site flags up the climate emergency declaration. The officer said: “This matter is of the most primary importance to Herefordshire council.”
He said he had read about “McHives” installed at some restaurants in Sweden and suggested the council would be “delighted” if one could be secured for the Ross restaurant.
“Alongside its very real ecological enhancement and mitigation, which is a local plan requirement, such a solution would bring mutually interesting and beneficial PR,” he wrote. “Herefordshire would be delighted to host the first McHive in the UK and I’m sure the company would gain much positive press or media releases and interest.”
Earlier this month, Ross town council voted to oppose the drive-through proposal, arguing it would contravene a string of policies set out in its local plan, ranging from encouraging active travel to preserving views of the spire of St Mary’s church.
Another resident, who spoke at the town council meeting and asked to be identified only as Daniel, said he had been proud when Herefordshire declared a climate emergency.
McDonald’s has argued that most of the customers would be passing rather than making a specific journey but Daniel said he had worked out that even if this was correct – and he doubts it will be – 44 tonnes of CO2 would be generated every year by vehicles leaving the main road and accessing the restaurant.
He said Herefordshire council had a responsibility under its own commitments to turn down McDonald’s’ application – and it if did, it would show the many other councils who have declared a climate emergency the way.
“We believe this could set an extraordinary precedent – if councils want to be serious about climate change they need to put their money where their mouths are and follow through on their commitments.”