Councillors ‘hands tied’ - row over Penny Pot Lane decision

NADV 1401142AM2 Council Offices. (1401142AM2)
NADV 1401142AM2 Council Offices. (1401142AM2)

Threats of appeals have left residents and councillors questioning Harrogate Borough Council’s planning process.

Plans for 600 homes at Penny Pot Lane were deferred by Harrogate Borough Council’s planning committee after a two-hour heated debate.

NADV 1401146AM1 Penny Pot Lane. (1401146AM1)

NADV 1401146AM1 Penny Pot Lane. (1401146AM1)

Councillors expressed their frustration that they were unable to refuse plans due to planning laws and requirements, and failed to reach a decision.

“We are stuck between a rock and hard place,” said Coun Anne Jones (Lib Dem, Knaresborough Scriven Park). “It’s a no-win situation.”

The threat of appeal loomed over the debate and both the council’s planning officers and solicitor raised the issue of developers’ right to appeal on several occasions.

Planning officer Tracey Rathmell told the councillors: “We have a 4.7 year housing supply, whilst this number is going in the right direction we are still short of a five year housing supply.

Land off Penny Pot Lane.

Land off Penny Pot Lane.

“There continues to be an increasing number of appeal decisions across the country that shows the government inspector gives considerable weight to the five year housing supply.”

A frustrated Coun Reg Marsh (Lib Dem, Hookstone) said: “This is the only planning application I have ever come across where there is only one answer.”

Coun Pat Marsh (Lib Dem, Hookstone) asked: “Why am I sat here if I don’t have the ability to make a decision.”

Coun Greta Knight (Lib Dem, Woodfield) added: “It is sad that this council is being held up. We don’t want this, this town does not have the infrastructure.

“It’s time for this authority to stand up for what we believe in and let it go to appeal.”

Ward councillor for the site, County Coun Don Mackenzie (Con, Saltergate) appealed for councillors to reject the plans, arguing they were ‘premature’ and lacked public support.

A representative for Persimmon homes, the building firm applying to build the 600 homes, refuted councillors accusations that the plans were premature.

Jim Ramsay from Signet planning said: “The site has been included as a preferred site option since 2007.

“It is a requirement to have a five year housing supply. If we provide at least 104 houses a year then the council can have a five year housing supply then you are in a stronger position to refuse green field site plans not in the LDF, for example Boroughbridge Road in Knaresborough.”

Rossett Coun Jim Clark (Con) was not swayed by this argument.

He said: “You [the developers] are jumping in because you can take advantage of a loop hole.

“Why don’t we just let the democratic process take its place. It is a bit rich for us to think you [the developers] are somehow helping us to get to our five year housing supply by building 600 houses, 500 more than is needed.”

He added: “We are being bullied and if the plan goes ahead now the local plan will be a farce.”

“If we approve these houses it will be a bad day for Harrogate and a sad day for democracy.”

Fears of flooding in the local area were raised by Coun Chris Lewis (Ind, Ouseburn).

She referred to the officers report which says, the surface water from the site will flow directly into Oak Beck as, ‘it is considered this option would have the least detrimental impact to the existing surface water network.’

She said: “The least detrimental is not good enough when it come to 600 homes. I don’t think ‘minimising’ flooding risk is good enough for the people who will open their door and find the beck floods in.”

However it was traffic issues that dominated the debate, despite Persimmon Homes’ traffic consultant Ed Spivey claiming the traffic flow on the notorious Skipton Road could be improved by work related to the housing scheme, councillors agreed the scheme would have a negative impact on traffic in the town.

Coun Knight said: “Everyone who lives and drives in Harrogate knows that Penny Pot Lane isn’t the best to drive on, so why is that where the access to the development is?”

Seven councillors voted to refuse the plans, and seven were against refusal of the plans. Committee chairman Coun Nigel Simms used his casting vote to stop the plans being refused outright.

A vote to defer the plans back to the planning committee with the hope that developers will address traffic concerns, was passed with nine votes to six.

After the meeting Catherine Wright, chair of Queen Ethelburgas Residents Action Group, said: “I feel so upset, I feel like we nearly had it refused, but now I realise that the planning committee’s hands are tied.

“They say they want to refuse but then they are threatened with appeal, it really is a sorry state of affairs.”

Kent Road resident, Margaret Bond who also attended the meeting said: “The outcome of the afternoon was the discovery that the council legal representative has the right to recommend that decisions be overturned if he does not believe them to be in the council’s interest.

“Rather than have to cough up the money to fight an appeal by a consortium of wealthy developers, the council will simply roll over like a lap dog and give in.”

Coun Mackenzie said he thought the decision to defer by the committee was incorrect.

He said: “What is the purpose of the deferral? Committee members expressed such fundamental dissatisfaction with the highways arrangements that it would seem impossible for this application to come back with sufficient changes not to constitute a new planning application. Members should have voted to reject, as they seemed to wish to do, and left it in the hands of the developer to think again”

He added: “I am afraid that my ward residents and the public will be unimpressed with the unsatisfactory conclusion to the long debate.

“They expect open discussion, clear argument for and against, and a transparent decision. What they got was whispered discussion between planning officers and the compromise of a vote to defer back to the same committee.”

The planning application is expected to return to the Council’s planning committee within the next couple of months.

Simon Usher, director in charge, at Persimmon Homes Yorkshire said they hope to continue to work with the council: “We are naturally frustrated by the delay in the delivery of much needed market and affordable homes at Penny Pot Lane.

“We will be considering our options and talking to officers at the council regarding the next steps.

“We still desire to work in a constructive partnership with the local authority if at all possible.”