THE Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has rejected environmentalists’ concerns over a proposal to build a £7m service station on open countryside, leading planners to recommend approval of the controversial scheme.

Robert Jenrick MP said while he had some concerns over petrol giant BP’s ambition to build outlets for itself, McDonalds, Costa Coffee and Marks & Spencer, an HGV overnight parking area and a 128-space car park over almost eight acres of grazing and arable land outside Thirsk, he had concluded the development would not cause substantial harm.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and Friends of the Earth had pressed the Secretary of State to carry out a detailed environmental impact study, raising concerns over the impact on ground water, trees, the landscape, heritage, town centre trade, noise and loss of green space.

In a written statement, Mr Jenrick replied the development at the York Road junction to the A19 was “not likely to have significant effects on the environment”.

The Secretary of State added after consulting the Environment Agency and Historic England and considering impacts on greenfield agricultural land, the effect on nearby heritage assets and potential for resulting contamination of groundwater and watercourses including Cod Beck, he had “some concerns”, but the impacts could be mitigated.

The decision has been met with dismay by campaigners, ahead of the scheme being considered by Hambleton District Council next week.

Planning officers said although the proposal would result in the loss of agricultural land, involve development on a greenfield site and change landscape character, on balance the scheme should be approved.

Objectors have highlighted numerous similar facilities close to the proposed site, but BP have claimed there are some gaps in provision between the site, Wetherby and Middlesbrough and say existing facilities nearby do not serve the same function or have access issues for HGVs.

The multinational says economic benefits of the scheme would include supporting 370 jobs during the construction phase and 106 full-time jobs once the service station outlets are opened and generating £21,000 in business rates.

In a report to the council’s planning committee, officers listed 18 bullet points, some lengthy, explaining why scores of people had objected to the scheme, but said representations in support of the scheme could be summarised simply as “would create jobs and draw people into town”.

The officers’ report added: “Whilst tempered by the marginal impact on the setting of the town and conservation area, it would provide accessible facilities for residents, reduce the need to travel further afield and support social cohesion. In addition, it would provide facilities for road users, and provision for HGV drivers reducing conflict parking off site.

“The proposal would support the council’s objectives through promoting Hambleton as a recognised location for business by providing a range of employment opportunities and meeting the needs of new and expanding businesses.”