Complaint lodged over 'shambolic' vote to approve new housing at Harrogate site that was once police training centre
A complaint has been lodged about the handling of Homes England's plans for up to 200 homes at a former police training base in Harrogate after a planning meeting condemned as "shambolic" by residents groups.
Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents’ Association, together with Pannal and Burn Bridge Parish Council, have submitted a formal letter of complaint to Harrogate Borough Council about the conduct of the planning committee meeting of December 7 at which the application by Homes England for the former Police Training Centre site at Yew Tree Lane was approved.
The letter of complaint refers to what it describes as "a chaotic and confusing session in which the committee first rejected the officer’s recommendation and, some three hours later, reversed their decision to approve the application."
The letter also says: "The reversal of decision followed a claim by the applicant that the committee had previously acted unlawfully, perceived threats from the applicant of costly appeals, constant reference to costs by officers, interruption by officers of members’ debates and inaccurate and misleading advice from the chair."
Homes England was granted approval for the Pannal Ash site at a planning committee meeting of Harrogate Borough Council home when it emerged the non-departmental public body that funds new affordable housing in England had written to senior officials at the council claiming the authority acted "unlawfully" when it delayed a decision on the plans in June.
The delay was taken after questions were raised over the West Harrogate Parameters Plan - a long-delayed document on infrastructure needs for the up to 4,000 new homes set to be built in the west of the district.
Members of the council's planning committee had hoped for a further delay on Tuesday to allow time for the parameters plan to be completed, however, they claimed they were "bullied" into approving the homes due a "threat" of legal action.
David Stephenson, senior planning manager at Homes England, said while launching a costly appeal against the council was an "absolute last resort" for the body, it was a route it was willing to take.
He told the planning meeting: "We are trying to work with officers and have been doing so for a number of months to avoid an appeal - something Homes England does not want to do."
Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents’ Association fears the recent course of events will set a bad precedent for greater increases in new housing across the west of Harrogate prior to the completion of the long-awaited the West Harrogate Parameters Plan intended to address any transport infrastructure improvements to meet the expected expansion of population caused by housing development.
Speaking at the meeting, Tory Coun Jim Clark accused Homes England of having a "bullying attitude" and said its claim that the council acted "unlawfully" was a "grossly damaging accusation".
Lib Dem Coun Pat Marsh said a decision on whether the scheme should go ahead should not have been taken at the meeting and she, too, criticised Homes England for "bullying" the council.
Meanwhile, the letter of complaint to Harrogate Borough Council by Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents’ Association, together with Pannal and Burn Bridge Parish Council concludes: "
Although much of the debate centred on the role of the emerging West of Harrogate Parameters Plan, no officer from that team was present to clarify the purpose and timetable for the Plan and some misleading statements made at the meeting went uncorrected.
"The final vote, delivered after a long and tiring session, reflected sheer fatigue.
"In our opinion, the committee were unduly influenced by the threat of the costs, which is not a material planning consideration and which one member described as blackmail.
"Given the other irregularities, we have asked the Council’s Chief Executive to comment on the validity of the decision reached."
The former police site on Yew Tree Lane was formerly used as a base to train more than 1,200 officers a year before it closed in 2011.