Campaigners’ outrage as A1M service station plan near Harrogate approved after 25-year battle

Campaigners who have spent the past quarter-century fighting plans for a new motorway service station on the A1(M) near Harrogate have reacted with "outrage" after the scheme was approved at appeal.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 2:47 pm
Campaign group chairman Gareth Owens and Harrogate councillor Nick Brown close to the proposed site. Photo: Kirby Hill RAMS.

Gareth Owens, chair of Kirby Hill Residents Against Motorway Services, said the decision by government planning inspector David Rose yesterday was a "great injustice" to residents who had successfully fought the plans at three previous appeals in 1997, 2003 and 2010.

Mr Owens described the £40m service station from Irish-firm Applegreen as an "unwanted and inappropriate" development which would cause "substantial harm" to the countryside as he also made calls for a major re-think of the planning system.

"This is a sad day for North Yorkshire and for the planning system," he said.

The now-approved site for the motorway service station on the A1(M) near Harrogate. Photo: Kirby Hill RAMS.

"Mr Rose has decided that the harm to the landscape and to our community is a price worth paying in order to provide facilities for the convenience of motorists using the A1(M).

"The government’s commitment to localism in planning is supposed to mean that local people, who know best, can shape development in the places where they live and work.

"The planning system has failed us in this respect."

Mr Owens also said residents had "put their faith" in Harrogate Borough Council's Local Plan as it does contain any proposals for a motorway service station, however, given yesterday's decision, he now believes "it is not worth the paper it is written on".

"We feel we have been wasting our time contributing to it for the last six years, because the developers and planners can ignore the Local Plan and do whatever they like," he said.

"Over the last 25 years, we have witnessed how public opinion and local views have come to be regarded as a nuisance and an obstacle in a planning system that favours developers.

"It is time the system was reformed and some balance re-introduced."

The decision follows a two-week inquiry held last month to examine the council's most recent refusal of the proposals for land between junctions 48 and 49.

In a decision notice, the planning inspector Mr Rose said after hearing arguments from residents and the developers he had concluded that the benefits of the service station would outweigh the harm to the environment and nearby listed buildings.

He said: “Considerable weight attaches to the less than substantial harm relative to the identified designated heritage assets.

"Loss of best and most versatile agricultural land is also a further negative factor of moderate weight.

“However, individually, and cumulatively, the wider public benefit in meeting the demonstrable need for a motorway service area, for the safety and welfare of motorists, would outweigh that harm.”

Harrogate Borough Council's planning committee most recently rejected the proposals in 2019 when councillors questioned the need for another service station on the motorway and raised concerns over the loss of countryside.

Speaking today, committee member councillor Pat Marsh said she was "angry and saddened" for campaigners who had done "all they can" to fight the proposals.

She added: "I can't get my head around why there is a need to spoil the countryside when there are already enough service stations in the area.

"This is a problem of the planning system always being on the side of the developer. It is an unfair and unbalanced system."

Applegreen was contacted for a comment but did not respond at the time of publication.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter