UPDATED: At an extraordinary meeting of the council on Wednesday night councillors ignored officers recommendations to withdraw the local plan.
A Conservative majority swung the vote 23-17 in favour of asking for more time to find more employment land in the district and question the housing numbers proposed by the planning inspector.
Plans for the future of housing in the Harrogate district have been criticised as inadequate by a government inspector who is calling on Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) to scrap more than six years worth of work.
Harrogate Borough Council’s current plans will ‘fail considerably’ to meet the housing needs of the district, government inspector Phillip Ware has said.
In a letter to HBC’s head of planning and development, Dave Allenby, Mr Ware said: “The issues go to the heart of the document,” and called for a fundamental review of the council’s strategic approach to planning.
Murray Trantor, chair of the Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents Association said: “This is going to leave us vulnerable for several years. By the time they have got a new core strategy and new local plan it will be years and the developers can ask for planning permission anyway.
“Residents will have to fight each application, one case at a time.”
He added: “I would expect the plans at Crag Lane to be appealed and the Penny Pot Lane plans to return.
“After the council has lost one or two appeals and the costs of those appeals to the tax payer start adding up, people won’t be happy to keep fighting appeals. It will be a green light to developers.”
Former Harrogate Mayor Geoff Webber, who oversaw the previous local plan process at the council said land to the east of Knaresborough and north west of Harrogate, including Cardale Park and land off Otley Road, are the most likely to be developed.
He said: “This makes it more likely plans will go ahead in Harrogate, we have got to build houses, and they have got to go somewhere.
“It is a dreadful mess. It has left us so vulnerable to unsuitable planning applications.”
The planning inspector has said that Harrogate needs to provide between 862 and 1,086 houses per year, almost three times the 390 houses per year HBC were proposing in their local plan Sites and Policies Development Plan Document (DPD).
The Cabinet Member for planning, transport and economic development Coun Alan Skidmore (Con, Ripon Spa) said: “The sites and development DPD was based on the plan the inspector approved in 2009.
“It is very difficult, on the face of it the inspector is saying we need 800 to 1000 houses a year in the whole district. If the inspector won’t change then a large part of these houses have got to go in Harrogate and Knaresborough, but there just isn’t the infrastructure for this many houses.”
Coun Helen Flynn, (Lib Dem, Nidd Valley) said: “It’s appalling, basically six years working on that plan have been wasted.”
The planning inspector has also criticised the council for basing employment figures on out of date information, some research dates back to 2002.
Coun Flynn said: “Why they thought they could put something in that was so out of date is beyond me.”
Coun Skidmore admitted to the ‘Advertiser that he had called for a review of the Core Strategy – the first part of the local plan which was approved in 2009 – last year.
He said: “I wanted the Core Strategy to be reviewed, things needed looking at, employment land is one of those.”
In his letter to HBC the inspector said: “The background data on which it was based dates back to at least 2002, and much has changed since then.”
The council has spent over £200,000 on preparing the two parts of the Local Plan, excluding the wages of the planning policy team.
A spokesman for HBC said: “It is important to note that work undertaken to develop the evidence base is not wasted as it will be built upon as part of the new plan.”
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
The planning inspector has identified two major flaws in Harrogate’s DPD, in summary a lack of housing provision and associated infrastructure, and the out of date information the employment land review has been based upon.
Part of the problem is the amount of housing required was agreed in 2009, when Regional Spatial Strategies were in place. Harrogate was part of the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Spatial Strategy, allowing councils to be more flexible with the number of houses they would provide in the future – for example neighbouring authorities wanting to build more than the minimum required could make up a shortfall elsewhere.
However the Regional Spatial Strategies were revoked in 2010 and the Localism Act passed in 2011, making local authorities responsible for establishing the right level of housing in their own area.
The council have, to some extent, been caught in limbo, in between two sets of planning regulations.
“It is not an unknown situation, but it is an unusual situation,” said David Boulton, partner at Carter Jonas in Harrogate.
“There are a few other local authorities where things have gone horribly wrong, HBC is not alone.”
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE HARROGATE?
The council is in no worse a position compared to November 2013, Coun Skidmore has insisted.
He said: “We didn’t have a five year housing supply then and we haven’t got it now.”
The implementation of the government’s NPPF in 2011 means that developers are looked at favourably in cases where councils cannot demonstrate a five year housing supply, meaning the district could be forced to agree to dozens of planning applications until the housing need is met.
Mr Boulton said: “The phrase chickens coming home to roost springs to mind.
“HBC needs to accept it needs to take on a significant amount of development. There are opportunities there to put sites forward.”
Tim Axe, planning partner at Barber Titleys Solicitor said: “HBC finds itself with a very large shortfall in housing land supply. It can expect to see a lot of applications, and with the NPPF it is going to be very hard for HBC to reject applications.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
On Wednesday night a full council meeting was held to decide if HBC should withdraw the current DPD, as recommended by the council’s principal planning policy manager, Tracy Rathmell.
In her recommendation she said withdrawing was ‘the only practicable option open to the council in light of the nature of the concerns raised by the inspector.’
The council called on the inspector to give the council more time to address the issues the planning inspector raised.
Coun Richard Cooper (Con, High Harrogate) said: “Now the planning inspector has said we need more, more, more.
“I disagree and will, with my colleagues on the council, fight this suggestion.
“I will be supporting a suspension of the local plan examination process so that we can prove to this inspector that we have identified adequate housing and that there are environmental constraints such as the green belt and sites of special scientific interest that limit the number of houses we can build in any case.”
If councillors decide to stick with the plan the government inspector could outright reject the local plan, forcing HBC to start again, or even to call for a judicial review.
What do you think? Does Harrogate need to increase house building? Or is 390 houses a year enough? Email email@example.com