Developments on agenda for Wetherby and Boston Spa.

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The work of Council seemingly never stops, not even planning, writes Coun Alan Lamb.

Residents of Wetherby, readers of this column and the Wetherby News, will be all too familiar with the onslaught of planning applications coming at us from all directions.

I’ve said it before, but to be clear, I am not against new housing per se. What we need is affordable housing and smaller properties, suitable for young families starting out and for older generations to do downsize into. This frees up both ends of the housing market and keeps it moving. Sustainably.

The saga of the Spofforth Hill application for 210 houses that is still going through Harrogate Borough Council may be familiar to many people.

At an earlier meeting, the Planning Committee voted overwhelmingly to reject the application, but after intervention and advice from Council Officers, committee members then completely reversed their decision.

To keep you up to date, our MP, Alec Shelbrooke, and I asked the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to look at ‘calling-in’ this decision to take it out of the hands of planners at Harrogate. Unfortunately, we have now heard that this request has not been successful. To that end, we have written again to the Secretary of State asking him to reconsider – we believe the merits of this case and the potential for it to become planning precedent, deserve greater scrutiny. We are also considering what next steps to take.

Not quite on the same scale but going before Leeds City Council’s North and East Plans Panel again this week is the application on High Street in Boston Spa.

This was heard at April’s meeting where the decision was refused, with reasons for refusal to be heard at a later meeting, taking place this week.

One month on and we are back here again to argue against this proposal. Reasons have now been put forward for refusal which we consider to be weak and do not fully reflect the local neighbourhood plan and strong objections from Historic England. We continue to support the view put forward by members of the panel that this should be turned down.

Why do these two applications matter? They are not near each other, in fact they are at opposite sides of Wetherby and one is not even in the Leeds District.

They are both frustrating examples of where it appears that officials have become involved in the decision making process at plans panel meetings.

Planning applications are referred to Panels to allow decisions to be taken by trained, democratically-elected councillors. Panels should listen to advice and guidance but should have the final say and not be seen as another obstacle to be overcome in the process.

I have only been heavily involved in the planning process for the last 12 months, but during that time I have come across a whole range of styles of engagement. One approach that has worked well so far is with the cinema in Wetherby. We have engaged with the owners in a constructive manner, discussing the views of the local community, planners and the owners. You may have heard from elsewhere, there is a drop-in session today (Thursday May 16) at the cinema between 4-6pm – please attend if you are able to see the plans for yourself. Whether this approach generates the desired outcome remains to be seen.