Frustration at 'betrayal' over Starbuck's drive-thru prompts doubts over Harrogate's planning system

Harrogate Borough Council faces another defeat over a major planning application as concerns grow it is increasingly hitting a ‘brick wall’ in the battle with developers.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 3:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th May 2021, 3:08 pm
New Starbucks drive-thru? The old dentist building in Harrogate whose future has sparked so much controversy. (Picture Gerard Binks)

After previously rejecting controversial plans for a Starbucks drive-thru on Wetherby Road three times, the decision this week by councillors not to continue the fight at a forthcoming appeal has raised questions over how planning now operates.

The U-turn follows recent planning setbacks for Harrogate council at the appeal stage, which included defeat over £40m plans for a new motorway service station near Boroughbridge on the A1(M) and defeat over plans for 149 new homes at Kingsley Farm in Harrogate.

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Some councillors were unhappy that they had to give up the challenge over plans for the Starbucks drive-thru.

Conservative councillor Robert Windass said planning officers’ behaviour was a “betrayal” while Lib Dem, Coun Pat Marsh said it was a “no-win situation” and councillors were now facing a “brick wall” from wealthy developers in the current climate.

Harrogate Borough Council insists it has a successful record on planning appeals and will continue to oppose developments where it feels it has a strong case.

Coun Tim Myatt, the council’s Cabinet Member for Planning, said: “In the past 12-months, the council has successfully defended more than 80% of decisions at appeal. In the case of the drive-through on Wetherby Road,

councillors were offered the opportunity to defend their decision in front of a planning inspector.

“I was disappointed they chose not to do so.”

Potential legal costs for the council - and taxpayers - means councillors are forced to think twice when faced with a battle against developers with deep pockets.

The Starbucks decision was partly made due to the fact that council officers had originally urged councillors to accept the plans - making it hard to then fight a successful appeal.

Harrogate Borough Council argues there is no general problem with the planning system and that applications by developers are still judged on a case-to-case basis in accordance with procedure.

Coun Myatt said: “Each planning application is different and the policy background to each one is different too.

“In some cases which have gone to appeal, like the new motorway service station on the A1(M), the council is able to mount a strong case and it is difficult to see why the decision was made by a planning inspector in the way that it was.”

But the cabinet member of planning said courting popularity for its own sake was futile and fighting on with a weak case made no sense.

Coun Myatt said: “If plans come before councillors which comply with the Local Plan, local planning policy and Government policy then there are no reasons for them to be rejected.

“If councillors decide to reject applications due to public pressure alone it may bring them short-term popularity but it is very likely those decisions will be overturned by the planning inspector at appeal.”

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