Harrogate council 'entirely refutes’ claims councillors were ‘bullied’ into approving plans for 200 homes at police base

Harrogate Borough Council has "entirely refuted" claims from its own councillors that they were "bullied" into approving plans for up to 200 homes at a former police training base.

By Jacob Webster
Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 12:54 pm
This is the entrance to the former police training base on Yew Tree Lane, Pannal Ash. Photo: Harrogate Borough Council.
This is the entrance to the former police training base on Yew Tree Lane, Pannal Ash. Photo: Harrogate Borough Council.

The proposals for the Yew Tree Lane site in Pannal Ash were approved during a three-hour meeting last Tuesday when the applicant Homes England was accused of making legal "threats" over any further delays on the application first submitted in June 2020.

Councillors had initially rejected a recommendation of approval during the meeting before claiming they had been "bullied" into the final decision.

This claim was supported by residents who said councillors "were unduly influenced" by the "threat" of a costly appeal from Homes England - the government's housing agency.

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The council has now issued a statement on the decision. It said: "While making a decision on a planning application, committee members are advised to do so against local and national planning policy.

“Although the committee initially voted not to accept officer’s recommendation, it is incumbent of them to provide acceptable planning reasons to support their decision.

“The decision was discussed at length and committee members were unable to identify sound reasons to justify such a vote, explaining their return to the original vote on the recommendation before them.

“Views that members were bullied, misled or voted due to fatigue are entirely refuted."

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The council's handling of the application has led to it receiving a formal complaint from Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents’ Association, and Pannal and Burn Bridge Parish Council.

David Oswin, deputy chair of the parish council, this week described the decision from councillors as “shambolic” and “embarrassing”.

He said: “Coupled with threats of a legal challenge by the developer and misinformation from the officers, councillors were frankly bullied and bamboozled into reversing a decision that potentially sets a dangerous precedent for those with the deepest pockets to exploit.”

During last Tuesday's meeting, it was also revealed that Homes England had written to the council claiming it acted "unlawfully" when councillors delayed a decision on the plans in summer.

Homes England was asked to comment on this and the claims of "bullying," but only provided a short statement explaining the council's decision.

It said: "Members of the Harrogate Borough Council planning committee approved our planning application at the Former Police Training Centre last week.

"The scheme will deliver 200 new homes - including 30% affordable homes."

A decision on the plans was previously delayed to allow time for work on the West Harrogate Parameters Plan - a long-delayed document which sets out the infrastructure needs for the up to 4,000 new homes set to be built in the west of the district.

It was due to be completed last year, but will now not be published in draft form until at least February 2022.

The plans from Homes England include the conversion of several former police buildings into 16 homes and the construction of 184 new properties at the former training centre which closed in 2011.

A reserved matters application is expected in spring 2022 and if approved, construction could start in autumn.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter