A treasured open space threatened with housing development in Knaresborough has been granted a reprieve after an impassioned fight from determined campaigners.
A planning application to build five detached homes on the much-loved Abbey Road field sparked a fierce wave of opposition, with a campaign group set up in its defence.
I can’t see a reason for putting five houses here when it’s so well loved by so many people. It’s wrong.Coun Alan Skidmore
It was set to be approved by planners in Harrogate on Tuesday but in a surprise move councillors went against all officer recommendations and refused the application outright.
“There are an awful lot of people that live in the area and use this space,” said Coun Alan Skidmore, (Con, Ripon Spa). “For their sake we should back down.
“I can’t see a reason for putting five houses here when it’s so well loved by so many people. It’s wrong.”
The application, from Camstead Limited, would see five four-bed detached homes with double garages built on the 0.68-hectare greenfield site. Opponents of the scheme argued that developing here, in the conservation area and close to the historic Roberts Cave, would be a huge loss to local people.
“Abbey Road is as important to Knaresborough as the Stray is to Harrogate,” said resident Joan Lowndes, speaking on behalf of the Love Abbey Road campaign group.
“This amenity is too precious to violate.”
There were objections submitted from Knaresborough Civic Society and Historic England, as well as 75 letters from residents and an unanimous objection from Knaresborough Town Council. Coun David Goode, (Lib Dem, Knaresborough King James), pleaded with planning members to dismiss the application
“We have hundreds of houses with planning permission in Knaresborough,” he said. “There’s no reason for this development to take place.
“It would be a major loss of open space and a loss of habitat for local wildlife.
“Please refuse this application. Abbey Road is a significant asset to this town.”
Knaresborough Town Councillor Andrew Willoughby (Lib Dem), said local councillors were in unanimous opposition to the plans.
“Abbey Road is special – it contributes greatly to public amenity,” he said, adding that it was used by around 1,000 walkers, cyclists and tourists every day in the summer months.
“This is not a place for development,” he said. “Yes, there is a need for housing, and Knaresborough will have to take its share.
“But the benefit of building houses on this space is almost insignificant.”
Planning officers at Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) had recommended the scheme for approval, stating that it was a reasonable application which would contribute to the district’s overall housing plan.
And while the district does now have a plan for its five-year housing supply, officers warned, there was little room for change within that and this site had been counted towards the total.
Telling councillors that every application – no matter how small – would have an impact, they reminded them that it should be considered favourably unless it would result in “significant and demonstrable adverse
Coun John Mann (Con, Pannal) said he was minded to pass the application for fear that refusing it would have an impact on the district’s wider plan.
“It’s not ideal as a development site,” he said. “However, I’m very concerned about this precarious land
“If we lose that, the district as a whole will be vulnerable to very large, predatory developers, and we don’t want to go back to those days.
“What’s important to me is to try and maintain our five-year housing supply.”
But the application was refused by 10 to one, with three councillors abstaining.
“Yes we have to maintain the five-year housing supply but we also have to maintain the wonderful assets this district has to offer,” said Coun Greta Knight, (Lib Dem, Woodfield).
“If we are going to protect as much as we can of this wonderful district, we’ve got to fight for little patches like this.”
Speaking after Tuesday’s meeting, residents and councillors said they were delighted with the result – but were aware that this wasn’t an outright victory as it could now go to appeal.
“We’re very pleased,” said Coun Goode. “It does appear that the wider views of Knaresborough residents have been taken into account.
“It clearly is an asset of significant value to residents and tourists.
“To have allowed the development to go ahead would have had a major impact on people’s enjoyment of the area.” Coun Willoughby added: “It’s an excellent result.
“I’m so pleased that the committee has taken on board all that’s been said.
“But it’s disappointing that the planning officers do not seem to value this special area. Abbey Road is Knaresborough’s promenade to the world.”
Planning officers confirmed after Tuesday’s meeting that the application would be heard again at appeal if developers chose to attest this decision.