Harrogate's Local Plan under pressure to get to grips with housing developments
It was a battle that raged for six years but is the end result turning out the way everyone hoped?
When the Harrogate District Local Plan finally won Government approval in February 2020, politicians of all stripes expressed hopes it would close the door on any unwanted housing developments planned in a haphazard way.
Having soldiered on without an agreed Local Plan since the first draft was withdrawn in 2014 by Harrogate Borough Council - after the Government Inspector deemed Harrogate had set building targets that were inadequate for housing needs - residents, too, had high hopes it would become easier to challenge ‘inappropriate’ housing plans.
But a recent defeat for Harrogate council in its efforts to block 149 new homes at Kingsley Farm between Bogs Lane and Harrogate High School, has cast new doubts over that assumption.
Richborough Estates’ victory at the appeal stage earlier this year after Harrogate council planners rejected the proposals last year has shown the risks for the council of taking on developers.
Not only has it lost the battle to stop the plans, the council - and tax payers - must also swallow a hefty bill for the appeal’s costs.
Distraught residents had pushed hard for the council to support them in their efforts to protect a greenfield area already struggling with what they argue are insufficient transport links.
As a result of repeated failures battling against a series of new housing developments in the area, members of Kingsley Ward Action Group, now question the whole point of the Local Plan.
Resident Gary Tremble, who, like other members of the group does not oppose new housing in principle just the numbers, location and a perceived lack of new infrastructure, said: “We fully understand the need for more houses and had no objections to the original 150-plus houses planned in the area. But we cannot sit by and watch is the destruction of every piece of open space in an area prone to being waterlogged, with a further 400-plus houses planned.
“Further development in this area will create hundreds if not thousands of daily car journeys constantly using the woefully inadequate and out- of-date road infrastructure.
“But what is the point of fighting on, when the developer simply takes it to a higher and higher court until they win?”
Harrogate Borough Council maintains that sites allocated in the Local Plan - which set a target of building 208 affordable homes in the district each financial year for the next 14 years - have already undergone rigorous assessment of all factors relating to the site’s sustainability and impact, including highways, landscape, ecology, historic environment, flood risk and drainage.
Despite the recent defeat, while not denying that the costs of losing to a developer in appeal can hurt itself and tax payers, it says it will not shrink in future from challenging ‘inappropriate’ housing plans.
Coun Tim Myatt, Harrogate council’s Cabinet Member for Planning, said: “The council is aware that a decision to refuse an application may be appealed, and that there is a risk that the council may have to pay costs.
“For that reason, we are keen that the grounds for refusal are strong and defendable. But the council will continue to refuse applications it feels doesn’t meet the policies in the Local Plan.”
If the case of Richborough Estates’ plans in the Kingsley area of Harrogate was a one-off, it’s unlikely there would be such question marks over the effectiveness of the Local Plan.
But its story is only the latest chapter in a series of running battles fought between residents and developers across the district over the last five years in which the council’s planners have found themselves caught up in.
A decision by Harrogate councillors this week to approve plans to build 95 homes on a grass field at Granby described by residents as a “vital green corridor” connecting the town to the countryside, led Lib Dem councillor Pat Marsh to question whether the process had any point if this was the outcome.
Harrogate and District Green Party, said the Local Plan was now out of date and claims it fails to consider the need to combat climate change.
Its chair Shan Oakes said: “Much of the housing development currently taking place in the Harrogate district was approved before the Local Plan was agreed. It needs to be updated with far more stringent environmental requirements.”
Having taken so long to get to this point, it would be a surprise if that was to ever happen.
Harrogate council would argue it cannot avoid its role in what is a national imperative from central Government to build 300,000 houses a year across the country.
When it comes to new housing, it says its aim is to ensure the best design and least intensity of development as proposals come in.
How far the Local Plan can contribute towards achieving this aspiration looks set to stoke up increasingly heated debate in the years to come.
Harrogate district's Local Plan: How did we get here?
It all sounds straightforward enough.
The Local Plan is a blueprint for the future development of the Harrogate district, drawn up by planning officials and agreed by councillors.
It sets out areas where thousands of new homes and businesses should be built up until 2035, and guides decisions on whether or not planning applications can be granted.
Prompted nearly a decade ago by the David Cameron Government’s commitment to tackling a national housing shortage - in Harrogate’s case it has proven complicated.
In June 2014, the council had to withdraw the first version of the Local plan after a Government Inspector deemed its housing targets inadequate.
The next version was then submitted to the Planning Inspector in August 2018 for examination, a process which ran until February 2019.
Finally, the Harrogate District Local Plan 2014 - 2035 was adopted by Harrogate Borough Council in March 2020 but only after the Inspector recommended removing 24 sites allocated for housing.
Since then various councillors and residents have been critical at different times of individual developments including Kingsley Road, Bogs Lane, Whinney Lane and Bilton in Harrogate, as well as villages such as Killinghall and Hampsthwaite.
One flashpoint, in particular, has been provoked by Harrogate Borough Council’s support for a new 3,000-home settlement in the Green Hammerton, Kirk Hammerton and Cattal area over a rival site at Flaxby Park.
Residents in those villages have fought without success against them for the last three years.
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