Homes England accused of 'bullying' tactics over 200-home plan for former Harrogate police base
The government's housing agency has been accused of using "bullying" tactics over controversial plans for up to 200 homes at a former police training base in Harrogate.
Homes England was granted approval for the Pannal Ash site at a meeting on Tuesday when it emerged the body had written to senior officials at Harrogate Borough 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 Tuesday's 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.
"But if this is deferred then unfortunately we will have very little options going forward."
The former police site on Yew Tree Lane was used as a base to train more than 1,200 officers a year before it closed in 2011.
The latest plans from Homes England include the conversion of several former police buildings into 16 homes and the construction of 184 new properties, while proposals for a sports pitch have been scrapped.
Councillor Pat Marsh said a decision on whether the scheme should go ahead should not be taken until work on the parameters plan is completed as expected in February.
"We are talking two months here to make sure what is done on this site is right," she said.
"I'm very saddened Homes England thinks it is right to bully us into this decision, because that is what is on the cards today - 'approve it or we will appeal'."
Councillor Jim Clark also accused the body of having a "bullying attitude" and said its claim that the council acted "unlawfully" was a "grossly damaging accusation".
The west side of Harrogate currently finds itself with around a quarter of the entire housing allocations in the district's Local Plan.
This equates to around 3,500 to 4,000 new houses and residents are worried how the area's schools, roads and health services are going to cope with this population increase.
Rene Dziabas, chairman of Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents Association, said he believed a precedent had been set for further housing in the area as the police site was allocated for 163 homes in the Local Plan, but has now gained approval for up to 200.
He said: "We are strongly opposed to this near 25% uplift in housing numbers.
"We are also worried about the precedent this sets, the impacts that will arise and we ask - what is the point of the Local Plan?"
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter