Residents are aghast at council plans to build a new town the size of Tadcaster between villages in North Yorkshire in a bid to tackle ‘a dire need’ for new housing. Chris Burn reports.
They are villages more than a mile apart that were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 under the same name. But now centuries later, they could soon be joined together again as they are swallowed up by the creation of an entirely new town between their boundaries.
Green Hammerton and Kirk Hammerton were attested to in the book as ‘Hambretone’ but now lie on opposite sides of the A59, halfway between Harrogate and York. However, in the next few decades, they could essentially become part of the same community if plans to create a “new settlement” of around 3,000 houses called Great Hammerton between the two locations goes ahead.
Harrogate Council has put forward the proposal as part of its attempts to meet a target of building 11,500 new homes in the district by 2035. It says the new settlement has the potential to play a key part in providing more affordable housing in an district where average house prices are an eye-watering £342,590; a situation which means most young people cannot afford to buy in the area and often move away, never to return.
But people living locally believe the proposals should and can be stopped – with the new town instead being built a few miles down the road at an alternative site in Flaxby which is currently largely made up of a disused former golf course. Flaxby was looked at as an option by the council before it decided to pursue the Great Hammerton option on the grounds it offers “a greater opportunity to grow in the longer term and more potential to support a wider range of services and jobs”, with the former’s potential more restricted because of its proximity to the A1(M) and Knaresborough.
The proposed site will be examined by councillors in December as part of a wider local plan for housebuilding. If councillors back the plan, a Government inspector will decide whether it is viable next year. Those fighting against the plans insist they are not NIMBYs and welcome sustainable development of affordable new homes in the local community. But they say equally forcefully that the current plans are misguided.
One of the reasons given for choosing Great Hammerton is the proximity of two nearby railway stations, but campaigners point to concerns raised by Network Rail that “major improvements” would be needed at both to accommodate increased passenger numbers.
Chris Chelton, chairman of the Keep Green Hammerton Green action group, says his village of 290 houses is already due to expand considerably in size, with 106 new homes soon being built and planning applications in the pipeline for a further 133.
“There is already a massive scale of development under way which is nothing to do with the 3,000,” he says. “At the moment we enjoy a very close community – it is a lovely place to live and everybody knows everybody. It will entirely undermine community cohesion. We are about to lose our identity and be subsumed into a bigger town.
“People move to villages to be part of a village community and not to have a town forced upon them. We have no problem with meeting housing needs and affordable housing. We are actually doing, as a village, more than the targets to meet housing need. But we are confident that the grounds for this site are flawed and that there are other sites, particularly Flaxby, that meet the same needs but doesn’t result in the loss of so much agricultural land and is less intensive in terms of the impact.
“Basically, what we are talking about is a new town the size of Tadcaster being built.”
Kirk Hammerton resident James Herbert says analysis of the hundreds of responses to the council’s consultation found an 86 per cent objection rate to the creation of Great Hammerton. He says the objections are valid and the council may yet change course. “More creative and more meaningful use of brownfield land across the whole of the district, which is huge, could easily meet the need – it doesn’t need this big new town,” he says.
“I think we have got every chance of success as the councillors begin to focus on what is being proposed. What is being proposed is simply not sustainable and not the right way to meet housing needs across the district. There is a military maxim that sometimes it takes more courage to retreat than advance. We would encourage the councillors to retreat and think again rather than get themselves in real difficulty.”
Councillor Rebecca Burnett, cabinet member for planning at Harrogate Council, accepts villagers are right to say the changes will effectively create an entirely new town – but insists the work is needed. Harrogate Council needs to build 669 homes every year until 2035 – a total of around 11,500. Last year, the Government promised financial support for the creation of new ‘garden villages’ of between 1,500 and 10,000 new homes, settlements which are part of attempts to build up to 275,000 new homes per year across the country to keep up with population growth and tackle years of under-supply. Burnett says Harrogate’s issues echo the national problem with a “dire need for housing” in the district.
“There are so many people on the housing waiting list; local employers can’t afford to pay for staff to live locally – we have got a problem and we need to increase the supply of housing we have to deal with that. If every time a development was proposed and every time somebody said, ‘Do it somewhere else’, we did, we would never get anywhere.
“Although we are planning for 3,000 to 3,500 homes, because of the rate of delivery we really only expect 1,500 homes here before 2035. So we have still got to find 10,000 homes elsewhere. Green Hammerton is feeling it because we are talking in very definitive terms about a new settlement. Things will change and you can’t get away from that. But in the same way somewhere like Knaresborough will change – there are hundreds of new homes coming on the east side of Knaresborough, we have got other villages that may double in size. We have almost no brownfield land here and we have to build on green areas.
“I fully appreciate every area stands up against what they think is wrong but we are doing it for the young people who live here, grow up and then have to leave because they can’t afford it.
“Harrogate is a fantastic place but we suffer from many of the same sort of problems many other successful places suffer from in terms of affordability.
“We have had so many responses from local people and it is a very necessary check and balance on what we are doing as a council. But the reasons we are doing this is thinking about the next generation. This housing has got to go somewhere and we believe Green Hammerton is the best place. But I’m more than happy for people to challenge that because we have to get this right. This is a very important decision.”
Network Rail warns of need for station upgrades
Network Rail has requested research is undertaken into extra capacity that will be needed at two local railway stations should the new settlement be built.
It says “major improvements” would be required at Cattal and Hammerton stations and it is concerned whether the issue has been adequately considered.
Villagers have also raised concerns about the potential impact on traffic and public transport.
Christine Turner, who has lived in Green Hammerton for 27 years, says: “The A59 is already very busy and it is going to be gridlocked. Public transport isn’t good enough.”
She says buses and trains do not run frequent services, with railway journeys also being expensive for passengers who do use them.