Why Harrogate's battle lines are hardening over new housing and planning applications
Growing pockets of resistance aimed at opposing housing developments across the district look set for a collision course with Harrogate Borough Council as it hardens its stance on when to fight appeals from developers.
Concern over proposals for a wave of new housing developments across the likes of Pannal Ash, Kingsley Drive and, most recently, Borougbridge has been reflected in the way Harrogate councillors have voted to reject the plans in the last year.
These have included:
Voting against plans for 149 new homes at Kingsley Farm near Kingsley Road;
Voting to delay a decision on plans for 200 homes at a former police training base at Yew Tree Lane in Pannal Ash;
Voting against plans for 260 homes at Stump Cross in Boroughbridge.
Growing popular sentiment against the intensity and scale of house building does not always translate into ultimate victory, however, and developers with deep pockets are willing and able to fight any rejection with an appeal.
It is not only with housing where there seems to be concern. Recent applications for a motorway service station on the A1(M) and for a Starbucks drive-thru on Wetherby Road have both been taken to appeal, despite rejection from the planning committee.
Developers behind the service station won their appeal, while the council has accepted it will not contest Starbucks as they also bid to overturn the initial rejection.
It is a situation which has left residents complaining that Harrogate Borough Council is not doing enough to face up to developers as they take their cases to the Government’s planning inspectorate.
But the council says its record on defending planning committee decisions at the appeal stage was one of “significant success”.
Harrogate Borough Council cabinet member for planning, Coun Tim Myatt said he wanted to clear up “misconceptions” that the council was reluctant to challenge developers for fear of the legal costs, something that was, he said “untrue”.
However, he added, councillors were ‘on their own’ if rejected housing plans did end up going to appeal - unless the legal case for opposing them was a strong one.
Coun Myatt said: “I want to reassure members that where decisions on planning applications are made on the basis of sound planning reasons, the council will defend appeals to the planning inspectorate.
“I am aware that there is a misconception that the council is unwilling to defend appeals on the basis of cost alone.
“That is untrue. Decisions on whether to defend an appeal are made on the likelihood of success, and where there is an arguable case a defence will be made. In some cases it may be that councillors on the planning committee disagree with officer recommendation but that, due to sound planning reasons put forward by the committee, a defence to an appeal can be mounted.
“Unfortunately some decisions have been made against strong officer recommendation and verbal advice, and there has been no realistic defence to present at appeal.
“In situations where no sound planning grounds are evident, councillors may be asked if they wish to defend their own decision at appeal.
“After all, decisions should only be made on planning grounds and councillors will be aware of why they have made their decision against strong officer advice.”
The councillor’s remarks follow question marks by opposition politicians over how the planning system is operating - highlighted by the council’s decision not to support the battle against Starbucks, when planning officers and lawyers said their case was legally weak.
Residents in the Woodlands area opposed to the new drive-thru, like those in the Kingsley area angered by hundreds of new houses, complain Harrogate Borough Council should be doing more to support them. But Harrogate Borough Council argues the facts are on its side over planning appeals.
New figures show that, in 2019-20 there were 79 appeals over planning applications with only 16 of them resulting in victory for developers. In 2020-21 there were 64 appeals over planning applications with only 10 of them resulting in victory for developers.
The council’s hardening attitude on the subject follows not only opposition from residents arguing too much housing is being built in the same areas without the necessary transport and infrastructure - but the necessity to hit the targets for new housing in the Harrogate district set out in its own Local Plan.
Coun Tim Myatt said, athough the council’s latest Housing Land Supply Update covering the five years to 2026 shows it can demonstrate more than seven years of deliverable housing sites, it was vital plans won approval.
He said: “Our supply is healthy at present but we cannot be complacent and it is important that sites within the Local Plan continue to come forward and are granted approval, particularly those with existing outline planning permissions.”
Planning appeals: Results & figures
According to figures provided by Harrogate Borough Council, approximately 80% of appeals made by applicants about planning decisions in Harrogate in the past two years have resulted in defeat at the appeal stage for developers.
In fact, in the second quarter of 2020-21, of 27 appeals, the applicant only won two, meaning defeat for developers in 92.6% of the cases.
And this was by no means a rare result, according to data provided by the council.
The figure for the third quarter of 2019/20 was 88.9%.
For the first quarter of 2020-21 it was 87.5%.
For the final quarter of the same period it was the same.
Harrogate council says the data demonstrates its willingness to defend decisions made by its planning committee.
Please note, the appeals are not made by Harrogate Borough Council, they are made by applicants about decisions made by the council. If an appeal is ‘dismissed’ then that is positive for Harrogate Borough Council’s planning committee as it means their original decision was upheld.
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