Harrogate councillors say their hands are tied in planning process

Harrogate Council building.  (140131M1d)
Harrogate Council building. (140131M1d)
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Harrogate district’s housing shortfall means it is difficult for councillors to refuse an increasing number of planning applications, despite local objections. JAMES METCALF reports on the latest controversial approval.

With increasing numbers of planning applications new housing going before Harrogate Borough Council (HBC), councillors feel their hands are tied by national housing supply policy.

The district has a largeshort fall of homes under the amount recommended by the planning inspectorate. As a result of the government’s housing policy, this now means that, though proposed developments often receive strong objection from local residents, they are passed by HBC to meet demand.

This was highlighted at the last planning committee, where a development in Birstwith was approved with three for, one against, and 11 abstentions, despite 94 letters of objection from residents raising concerns about the site’s drainage and its prominence in the landscape.

Ouseburn Coun Chris Lewis (Ind), who abstained, said: “I don’t believe that as a committee we have been satisfied that a well drained and socially sustainable community can be built there. We have not properly got to the issues that there are to this site.

“I want to see local people use their very important local knowledge, because they know what the water does in their village.”

Spofforth with Lower Wharfedale Coun Shirley Fawcett (Con) also abstained. She said: “I didn’t have a problem with the development as such, but it was firmly said that the site flooded and I am much against building on floodplains.

“I have been a councillor for 20 years and we have had problems where we have allowed building to take place where the landed has flooded previously and that is why I wasn’t going to vote against it, but also why I couldn’t vote for it either.”

Despite concerns about the site’s flooding history and what many councillors perceived as a lack of public consultation, the application was passed in order to satisfy the housing demand set by the government.

Councillors voting for the application said that, if refused, it would go to appeal and probably succeed due to the district’s shortfall. This, in turn, would cost HBC.

Bishop Monkton Coun Ian Galloway (Con), who voted for the application, said: “The government has made the rules and if we object to an application it goes to appeal and wins and it costs us money as a council.

“At the moment because of the way things are run we are stymied and there is not a lot we can do. We are in a very difficult position.”

Bilton Coun Val Rodgers (Lib Dem) was the only councillor to vote against the application. She said that, though she feels for the planning inspectors who have the difficult job of making the committee aware of the national planning policy framework, she had to vote against the application.

“The government has put everybody under pressure and we are short, but I think each councillor has got to do what they are happy with,” she said.

“I feel sorry for the officers who have to put this across because the committee decides that there is no democracy really because we more or less don’t have a choice.”

Lower Nidderdale Coun Christine Hill (Con) had been working with the Birstwith residents before the meeting.

After the decision she said: “In six years as a councillor I have never known anything like it. You only had in effect three people that were for it and it went through.

“As has been pointed out, we can’t legally stop the application because of the government’s rush to build, but people have a democratic right to voice their opinions.

“I find it dreadfully disappointing. What difference can you make if you are blocked by government interfering in it? This cry of democracy and localism is a hollow bucket.”

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