Will new housing's population boom in Harrogate bring future problems for Local Plan

A new question mark has been raised over Harrogate’s Local Plan and the impact of thousands of new homes being built across the district.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 4:18 pm
Updated Friday, 30th April 2021, 4:22 pm
Existing Harrogate neighbourhoods may be feeling the immediate pressure of developments on their doorstep but it’s the expected longer term effects of dramatic population growth which is prompting concern.

Existing neighbourhoods may be feeling the immediate pressure of developments on their doorstep but it’s the longer term effects of dramatic population growth from the Harrogate district's current population of 160,000 which is now prompting concern.

Few dispute the necessity of tackling the national housing crisis nor, in Harrogate’s case, actually having a Local Plan which sets out the target of 637 new homes each year from now until 2035.

In fact, local politicians of all stripes are on record as having supported its adoption to prevent a development 'free for all'.

Despite the controversy generated during the six years it took for the Local Plan to win approval from the Government Inspector, Harrogate Borough Council set out on the whole process in 2017 with the aim to resolve a multitude of problems facing the district.

These ranged from the inability of young people to afford a house here, villages with declining services and the high proportion of local traffic made up of commuter traffic from elsewhere - not to forget the thousands of people on the housing waiting list.

But the debate has begun to shift in recent weeks from complaints over the sometimes intensive and disruptive nature of the housing developments now taking place to the likely impact on infrastructure and facilities in areas like health, education and transport in the years ahead.

Will addressing Harrogate district’s housing problems have knock-on effects beyond our control?

What the Lib Dems say

The leader of the Lib Dem opposition on Harrogate Borough Council says flatly that the district is not ready for the population boom likely result from housing targets set by the Harrogate district’s Local Plan.

Lib Dem council leader Pat Marsh, whose party voted for the Local Plan, argues the way the system has been set up by the Government for dealing with the fall-out of new housing is inadequate.

Coun Marsh said: “The Harrogate district is not ready for all the proposed new developments. But it is not our local councils who are responsible for issues such as the number of doctors, dentists or hospitals.

“Until recently in the planning rules there was nothing we could do on any of those things, unlike Open Space, Education and Highways which at least could have 106 agreements imposed on a developer to the impact of the development on local frastructure.”

It may be the patchwork quilt nature of new housing itself and the steady drip of planning applications which is, in itself, stoking fears over the end result for the district.

The time lapse between new houses going up and the procedures and planning for any new infrastructure, facilities or services actually may also be fuelling concern.

But Coun Marsh argues the problem is not just one of public perception.

She claims the system set up by the Government to solve the housing crisis is itself flawed.

She said the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy, a charge which can be levied by local authorities on developers to deliver the infrastructure needed, showed this was the case but that it had come too late.

Coun Marsh said: “The Community Infrastructure Levy only applies to developments given permission after the council agreed to adopt the process in July 2020, not to house building agreed before then.

“As a result, in Knaresborough, which has three doctors surgeries, there will be an increase of over 3,000 people once all the developments are completed with 1,000 patients potentially for each surgery.

“What if that is replicated throughout the district?

“There should be another Local Plan that sits alongside the Development Plan to deal with future needs for GPs surgeries, hospital beds, dentists, schools, food shops and non-car transport.”

Impact of new housing and population expansion: What North Yorkshire authorities say

North Yorkshire County Council, which is responsible for 80% of all services in the Harrogate district, says it has a strategic vision for the needs of education and other infrastructure involved with intensive developments.

Dale Owens, North Yorkshire County Council’s Assistant Director for Commissioning and Quality in Health and Adult Services said: “We work with Harrogate Borough Council through consultation on new developments to ensure that due consideration is given to the levels of need in the local area in relation to formal care provision.”

The county council admitted that for a number of the proposed larger urban extensions indicated within the Local Plan, there would be a need to provide new schools to meet the needs of the proposed new housing - with the possible help of developers.

A spokesperson said: “During the development of the Local Plan - and again when a planning application is submitted for a large urban development - the county council looks at whether existing schools have enough capacity to accommodate the new development. If they don’t, we will request contributions from developers.”

NHS North Yorkshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will play a key role in people’s health as Harrogate district’s population rises in the decade ahead.

The body, set up last year to replace a set of individual CCGs, has an annual budget of £680 million and is responsible for planning and buying health services and medicines across the county.

A spokesperson said: “The planning processes in place will ensure that the specific needs associated with each housing development will be identified and funded as a condition of planning approval. This includes increases in local health care provisions associated with each project.”

When it comes to future transport needs, the Local Plan is already set up to address them, said Coun Don Mackenzie, the county council’s executive member for access and transport.

But, significantly, although developers can be asked to contribute financially to the aftermath of new housing and expanding populations, this is limited specifically to the knock-on effects they have created, not to existing problems in each area.

“The Local Plan provides for a more generalised policy for highways, travel and transport for the district. At a county level this is provided by the county council’s Local Transport Plan.

“But each new planning application is considered on its own merits.

"Developers would normally be required to set a travel plan but it would be unreasonable for a single development to be required to provide a financial contribution towards fixing an existing or wider transport problem.”

Coun Mackenzie pointed to its Harrogate Transport Improvement Programme and the West Harrogate Parameters Plan as further evidence that the bigger picture has not been forgotten at all.

Impact of new housing and population expansion: What Harrogate Borough Council says

Harrogate Borough Council remains confident the Local Plan is a means to prevent a ‘free-for-all’ in housing developments fashioned from the start to address any infrastucture issues resulting from expansion.

“Development has become plan led at last and is no longer a free-for-all, said Council leader Richard Cooper who added that opposition Lib Dem councillors had all voted for the Local Plan but now spent their time attacking it.

Coun Cooper said he was proud to be a part of an administration which was “working for young people and families, reducing congestion, tackling air quality, addressing homelessness and supporting businesses” - all of which depended in part on Harrogate’s Local Plan which the council had first adopted in 2017.

He said: “Development is rarely popular with everybody but we will, as a council, fail future generations in terms of housing, the environment and jobs if we fail to address the housing issue.”

Harrogate Borough Council said, while understanding some people’s anxiety, the Local Plan does plan for matters such as schools, transport and health facilities.

Harrogate Coun Tim Myatt, cabinet member for planning, said the Local Plan had greatly strengthened the ability of the council to control development and ensure infrastructure requirements were met and was supported by all major parties on the council.

Coun Myatt said: “Our Local Plan ensures that local housing and employment needs will be met until 2035 by development in the most sustainable locations.

“The assessment of each site in the Local Plan included the impact on infrastructure and public services and the Plan is accompanied by an infrastructure delivery plan.

“The applicants for those sites will have to demonstrate how they will mitigate the impact of development and there are clear policies in the Plan to require appropriate infrastructure and services.

“For some areas where there will be significant development, such as the new settlement and the West of Harrogate, there is comprehensive master planning to ensure adjacent site promoters take a holistic approach to infrastructure and place-making.

“This work will be completed prior to any new planning permissions at these particular locations.”

Impact of new housing and population expansion: What Harrogate & District Green Party say

Harrogate & District Green Party argues The Government Planning Inspector’s long-awaited approval of Harrogate Local Plan last year offered too little in the battle to protect the planet and nature.

It says the Local Plan needs to be updated with far more stringent environmental requirements.

At present, they claim the plan for the district has several major failings:

None of the dwellings already approved are fit to meet the challenge of Climate Change and will need retro-fitted to do so;

Housing developments in the district are very car centric;

The Local Plan is ineffective at protecting existing nature, hedge rows and trees are being ripped up by developers at an unprecedented rate.

More needs to be done to ensure new developments can benefit wildlife, retaining trees and creating wild areas.

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