Victory! Harrogate residents win housing battle in major ruling

Government Inspector's decision - The Harrogate view at Howe Hill which might have been ruined by new housing.
Government Inspector's decision - The Harrogate view at Howe Hill which might have been ruined by new housing.

Community groups are celebrating a ruling against new housing plans which may be of significance across the district.

After a public inquiry held in July, the Government's Planning Inspectorate has decided to turn down an appeal by the Duchy of Lancaster to build up to 165 new houses on a 33-acre site at Cornwall Road.

The first decision of this kind in recent years was triggered by Harrogate Borough Council’s opposition to the new development after protests by residents over the possible impact on the beautiful Pinewoods area of Harrogate.

In a wide-ranging judgement, the Planning Inspector ruled the new housing plans would create "harmful conflict not only with the general intentions of national policy concerning landscape but also the specific intentions of the (council's) development plan itself."

The Duchy Residents Association, which sent three members of its committee to all five days of the hearing, welcomed the decision.

The association's chairman Richard Thomas said: "We are delighted that the appeal has been rejected and that the public can continue to enjoy the large distance views to the Beamsley Beacon Ridge.

"This land was not originally owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and we felt that the road had been and should continue to mark the point where town ends and country begins."

IS THE RULING A TEST CASE?

Located within a Special Landscape Area adjacent to a Site of Special Interestat Birk Crag, when news spread of the decision last Wednesday night, excitement grew among local community groups that it might represent a ‘test case’ for other housing developments in the pipeline in the Harrogate district.

But Harrogate Borough Council, which welcomed the appeal decision, said it did not believe that the ruling went that far

Coun Rebecca Burnett, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for planning said: "The Inspector concluded that the harmful impact of the development on the character of the landscape, the Harrogate Conservation Area, and the adjacent public right of way were so significant that the appeal should be dismissed.

"This decision supports the views of the council's planning officers, members of Harrogate Borough Council’s Planning Committee and the local members.

“This case is a good example showing clearly that planning applications are decided on their own merits in accordance with national and local planning policies.

"We have a high need for housing in our district which the council is committed to meeting, but this does not mean that all applications have to be approved."

WILL RULING EFFECT OTHER HOUSING PLANS?

But one relieved community group, in particular, said it hoped the ruling would have a wider application over housing plans in the coming years.

Neil Hind, chair of Pinewoods Conservation Group said: “This is a very important decision by the Inspectorate that will help further protect the Pinewoods with its valued landscape views and special character.

"We trust that Harrogate Council planners and committees will keep the inspectorates findings in mind when considering future applications in the area and the new Local Plan.”

"Specific references were made to the Special Landscape Area that already exist and the importance that this is maintained with our well used viewpoint even getting a special mention.

"It was also interesting to see impact on public rights of way and causing environmental harm were also a major concern and the inspector making reference to the popularity of paths within the area."

HOW WE GOT TO THIS POINT...

The original application for the new development in the western part of Harrogate at two large fields near Cornwall Road below the Pinewoods and Irongate field was first submitted in November 2105.

The ambitious plans also included sports pitches and a pavilion, as well as new homes of the "highest design quality."

But, having made a seven-mile walk to the Harrogate site in July the company of members of the Duchy Residents' Association, a journey which included climbing over gates and walls, Inspector Keith Manning ruled against new housing.

The judgement made prominent reference to both the National Planning Policy Framework and Harrogate Borough Council's own Development Plan which consists of the Harrogate Core Strategy 2006-2021, which was adopted in 2009, and the saved policies of the Harrogate District Local Plan including the Policies Map, which was originally adopted in 2001.

Consultation has now ended in the council's bid to come up with a new Local Plan.

WILL INSPECTOR'S RULING EFFECT COUNCIL'S FUTURE PLANS?

The question is whether the appeal decision will have any effect on its formulation or implementation.

While recognising the economic and social benefits of new housing development, the degree of shortfall in housing land supply and the importance of Harrogate Council addressing the situation, the Government Inspector also says in his ruling:

"Policy C2 of the Local Plan simply seeks to protect landscape character and taken literally would be prohibitive of development unless restoration of the landscape, where necessary, were a consequence."

He also rules there is no objection in principle to building new houses on greenfield sites.

The ruling says: "It is common ground that the development limits shown in the (Harrogate) Local Plan are out-of-date and “carry no weight”.

"It is a matter of fact that planning permissions for housing on greenfield sites outside these limits have been variously granted by the Council at first instance and on appeal and it is common ground that there is “no objection in principle to the development of greenfield sites adjoining the built-up area of Harrogate."

PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT

But the Inspector also highlights the importance of protecting the environment and Harrogate's special character.

The judgement says: "If commitment to develop in Special Landscape Areas in the Borough elsewhere has any force as a justification to override their protection and enhancement in any particularcase, then the policy would be rendered devoid of purpose and the ultimate consequences for the rather special environment of the town could be unfortunate."