Parish council slams 'fast track' planning rules after latest Dunlopillo proposals passed in Pannal

This was the Dunlopillo office building on Station Road. It has since fallen into a derelict state.This was the Dunlopillo office building on Station Road. It has since fallen into a derelict state.
This was the Dunlopillo office building on Station Road. It has since fallen into a derelict state.
Fast track rules which speed up the planning system have been slammed by a parish council after latest housing plans for a derelict office block near Harrogate were approved without a vote from councillors.

The proposals for 38 flats at the former Dunlopillo building in Pannal were passed by Harrogate Borough Council last week.

This came after the developers Echo Green previously won permission for 48 flats at the Station Road site before submitting a second application also under permitted development rights.

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These rules were first introduced to ease the path of conservatories, small extensions and other uncontroversial works.

But in recent years they have been used by the government to drive up housing numbers through offices being converted into or replaced by entirely new buildings without usual planning permission.

Councillor Howard West, chairman of Pannal and Burn Bridge Parish Council, had raised several objections over the Dunlopillo plans and has now launched fresh criticism at the planning rules which he argues fails to take into account rural areas.

He said: "We're disappointed that the construction of an even bigger building than the one that was universally hated has been allowed.

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"However, once Harrogate Borough Council officers made their original decision on the first prior notice of permitted development, there really was no way to stop construction.

"The principle of prior notice of permitted development was essentially to protect the high street from having empty commercial units when they could be converted to accommodation.

"However, to allow loopholes where rural villages could be overshadowed by bigger monstrosities than those originally built was patently an oversight by the civil servants who drafted the legislation and by those who voted it into planning law."

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The rules allow for developers to apply to councils to simply seek confirmation that a development is acceptable before commencing work.

This was the case for both applications for the Dunlopillo site and is different from usual planning permission which requires an outline and reserved matters application, and sometimes a vote from councillors.

But Harrogate Borough Council has admitted it could have allowed for a vote from councillors if it had acted quicker on the first application.

It made this admission in a lessons learned review which concluded that while the plans were "appropriately considered", "a longer period of time than ideal" was spent on parts of the process.

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Councillor West said he believes the plans could have been refused if presented to councillors as he also described the council-run review as "akin to marking one's own homework".

He said: "Had council officers involved the planning committee for the first prior notice of permitted development then there might have been a chance in getting it stopped because of the ghastly design - although some of the past committee decisions defy logic.

"The second proposal is a country mile better than the first, albeit much too high and overbearing and not at all in keeping with a village environment."

The latest plans for the Station Road site include demolishing the existing building to make way for an apartments block two-storeys higher.

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This is something which has been a key concern for residents who are fearful the development will have a major visual impact on the area surrounding the site which pillows and bedding manufacturer Dunlopillo moved out of in 2008.

Since then, the building has fallen into a state of disrepair with residents describing it as an "eyesore" and "monstrosity".

Its current state is far from how many employees will remember the building in the 1970s and 1980s when an estimated 440 people worked there.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter