SPECIAL REPORT - Harrogate home building ‘free for all’ fears

tis  Potential housing development land near Cardale Park.  (110707M1a)
tis Potential housing development land near Cardale Park. (110707M1a)

A loophole which has left planners in Harrogate forced to consider early applications for thousands of new homes has been branded ‘madness’ by furious campaigners. Reporter RUBY KITCHEN investigates;

Outraged residents are calling for a stop to a “planning free-for-all” which could alter the shape of new housing for the Harrogate district.

Developers, accused of jumping the gun, have submitted early plans for huge new developments across Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale.

The council has submitted its own draft plans but must now consider these new schemes first – and approve them if they’re viable – or be faced with “significant” costs on appeal.

The result, say campaigners, is a “free-for-all” which could end up changing the shape of the entire Harrogate district forever.

“It’s the Wild West,” said outraged councillor Jim Clark (Con, Rossett), who is fighting a development at Cardale Park. “Developers are just staking a claim.”

Planning ‘Wild West’ to change district forever

Harrogate Borough Council’s (HBC) planners, who must find space for 4,346 new homes by 2024 as part of a formal local plan, have sent a list of prefered sites to a Government inspector for scrutiny in the spring.

But developers, spotting a window of opportunity before the local plan is finalised, have now submitted a flood of applications for the same sites.

What they are doing is perfectly legal, but has left residents outraged that the plans could be approved before an inspector can intervene.

“It’s become a free for all,” said Coun Clark, (Con). “Decisions are being made which will fundamentally change the Harrogate district. We must put a halt to this.”

The loophole may result in homes being built even if they’re not exactly what the council wants.

But councillors considering the applications have found themselves trapped in a legal loop. By law, the applications must be heard and, if viable, passed.

This is because the council has no five-year-plan for housing and, as a result, could be liable for “significant” costs if the application was overturned on appeal.

And planning committee members have been warned that if an application is similar to one they themselves have proposed, they cannot turn it down.

Some councillors were cautious about speaking on the record to the Advertiser, but one did say: “There’s the expectancy of defeat. The developers hold all the cards - and they’re picture cards.

“If you’ve considered the sites to be viable in the first place, and put it into the local plan, how can you then say no? You’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

Coun Don Mackenzie, (Con, Harlow Moor) added: “I can understand why the developers are doing it, but nevertheless, in order to achieve good sustained development, we should be waiting for the local plan to be finalised.”

One suggestion behind the early applications is that the first homes to be built will be worth more money. The cost of land could go up, and the market could become saturated.

“It’s the system that’s at fault,” said Coun Clark. “We should wait for public examination - this is madness.

“We’ve spent years on this housing plan. We’ve spent many hundreds of thousands of pounds and hundreds of residents have consulted on it.

“Now there’s a free for all. It causes people to question the value of having a democratically elected member even looking at applications.”

‘‘No-one’s listening to the little guys’

Furious Killinghall residents are among those who say they have been sidelined by developers.

Hundreds of villagers have been united in their opposition to development plans for 62 new homes on dairy fields near the cricket club.

Their hopes for a refusal had been hinged on the intervention of an independent Government inspector – as has happened in the past.

But with an early application from property consultants Carter Jonas, the plans could now be approved before that step in the process is even reached.

“It’s hugely disappointing,” said resident Colin Waite, 71, a local historian and founding member of the Killinghall Village Protection group. “We have consistently opposed this every step of the way. Unfortunately, there’s lots of developers trying to jump the gun.

“If it’s a level playing field, at least we stand a chance. But this is not a level playing field. Nobody is listening to the little guys.”

A planning application to develop the site for 53 homes was first submitted 17 years ago but, reaching the scrutiny stage, was thrown out by the planning inspectorate.

When it came up again on the preferred list of sites from HBC, villagers had pinned their hopes on the inspectorate dismissing it once again.

But with developers now pushing ahead with their own scheme – outside of the local plan – it will be assessed locally by councillors who residents say are trapped in this ‘planning loop’.

“This has got to be the biggest housing development in Killinghall’s history,” said Mr Waite.

“I would like to see this development considered properly – by an inspectorate – instead of rushing it through.”

More than 70 residents have now lodged their objections to the application, mainly based on traffic and safety grounds.

“How can our village take any more?”, said Mr Waite. “It’s already got the unenviable reputation of being the most traffic-blighted village in the whole of the Harrogate district. What we don’t want is any more traffic.

“This development will take away the last bit of green land in the heart of our village. The danger is that Killinghall becomes just a commuter village for Harrogate.

“Now we face losing our identity.”

‘A lot of these houses are needed now’

Persimmon Homes has applied to build 600 homes on Penny Pot Lane in Harrogate, a site suggested by the council for 500.

Director in charge Simon Usher, told the Advertiser: “Our plans have been developed through detailed discussions.

“Bringing the site forward in advance of the final adoption of the housing plan will serve to support the hard work carried out by the council to deliver new homes in the borough.”

CEG has submitted applications for 600 homes at Manse Farm in Knaresborough and 210 homes on Skipton Road.

Spokesman Steve McBurney said: “National planning policy is absolutely clear. If a local authority cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply for housing there is a presumption in favour of granting planning permission, even if the Draft Local Plan isn’t finalised.

“Our planning applications are in full accordance with the council’s Draft Plan and officers agree that these applications are not premature.

It is important for applications which are in line with the Draft Plan to be supported to prevent speculative developments in unsustainable locations coming forward.”

And Paul Leeming, from Carter Jonas, which has plans in for 62 homes at Killinghall, said the consultation was still ongoing. “It’s fair to say it’s seeking to jump the gun,” he said.

“But the planning process is a pretty drawn out one.

“They might say there will be examination next spring - but the council has been saying that for years.

“We could jump the gun now or wait a few years.

“But a lot of these houses are needed now.”

Hundreds of homes set for countryside

There are four main sites which have been proposed for large-scale developments in Harrogate.

All of them have now attracted plans from early developers.

HBC said it would like to see 500 homes built at Penny Pot Lane – but housing developers have applied for plans for 600. The planning strategy proposes 680 homes are build at Cardale Park West, but plans are in for 450 houses. Manse Farm, recommended by the council as the preferred site for 700 homes, was up before planners last week with an application to build 600 before the inspectorate sees the plans. It’s now been postponed for a fortnight. And there are plans in to built 210 homes on Skipton Road, at a site recommended for 290. HBC’s preferred sites also include 120 houses at the former Dunlopillo site in Pannal, 90 houses at the former police training centre in Harrogate, 79 homes at the Auction Mart in Ripon, 50 homes near the cricket ground in Killinghall, and 96 homes south of Southfield Lane in Tockwith. Several of these have also attracted early applications.