Public Inquiry - Stockeld Park/Hallam appeal.
The following Closing Statement on behalf of Better Wetherby was made by Mr Paul Crossan on 20th Dec:
The following Closing Statement on behalf of Better Wetherby was made by Mr Paul Crossan on 20th Dec:
- As the appointed advocate for Better Wetherby Partnership, I have attended all four days of the Planning Inquiry. My principle role has been to ensure that the views of local residents and interested parties received due consideration and to present our case with regards to the Appeal Site.
- The issue here is the suitability of the Appeal Site for housing. It is a greenfield site, in Harrogate which abuts the western administrative boundary of Leeds. The evidence before this inquiry is that common ground exists between the parties as follows:
* Harrogate Borough Council have an up to date 5-year supply of deliverable houses
* The Council’s statutory development plan housing policies are out of date.
* NPPF Paragraph 11[d] is in play so the “tilted balance” is triggered.
- The main areas of difference between the parties can be summarised as follows:
* The stage of preparation of the Council’s emerging local plan (NPPF 48[a])
* The extent to which there are unresolved objections (NPPF 48 [b])
* The degree of consistency of the relevant policies in the emerging plan to the Framework (NPPF 48 [c])
- The Inquiry has considered these matters alongside whether the perceived adverse impacts of the Appeal Site significantly and demonstrably outweigh the purported benefits.
- My closing statement, follows the running order of the agreed Itinerary for the Inquiry. Under each section, I set out key points of disagreement with the Appellant’s case and reflect on the main issues, which arose during the Round Table Session and Cross-Examinations.
- I conclude with our views on the overall Planning Balance.
TRANSPORT & HIGHWAYS MATTERS
- The principle areas of disagreement between Better Wetherby (Rule 6 Party) and the Appellants (Hallam Land Management/Stockeld Park), are as follows:
I - Absence of a Statement of Common Ground with Leeds City Council Highways.
- We believe that it is usual practice that a Highway specific Statement of Common Ground be prepared on a significant site where there are highways issues. As confirmed by Mr Davis, during the Round Table discussion, although the Appellants secured a Statement of Common Ground with North Yorkshire County Council Highways, no such agreement was sought with Leeds City Council Highways (LCCH).
- We consider this to be a major omission in terms of the evidence which was put before the Inquiry. As, a consequence the issues raised by LCCH in their letter dated 7 September 2018 concerning the adequacy of the TA/TAA are unresolved. LCCH letter concludes that they “still wish to maintain their significant concerns over the development of this site for housing and consider that it would not represent a sustainable form of development”. This was reinforced by a letter from Leeds City Council dated 19 December 2019, which was issued to all parties by Cllr Alan Lamb, a member of Better Wetherby, prior to the close of proceedings on Day 3 of the Inquiry.
ii - Highway Safety.
- Better Wetherby highlighted concerns over a proposed new section of footway along the northern side of A661 Spofforth Hill and the safety of vulnerable users crossing A661 Spofforth Hill to the westbound bus stop in the vicinity of Wentworth Gate.
- In the Round Table discussion, Mr Jones set out the proposed mitigations to improve the safety of pedestrians entering and exiting the Appeal site, which would include the installation of a new sections of paving. When asked by the Inspector he confirmed that the minimum width requirement for a wheel chair user was 0.9m. Although not challenged at the time, we believe that this is actually the width of a wheel chair and not the required width of pavement for a wheel chair user. We further maintain that the reason no pavement currently exists in the vicinity of the site is that it was deliberately designed out as safety measure to discourage pedestrians using a precarious section of the highway.
- Mr Jones also set out the proposed mitigations to improve the safety of pedestrians crossing the A661 which includes implementing a tree management plan to improve visibility splays. When Mr Jones was asked by the Inspector how he reached a conclusion that a designated crossing point was not needed, Mr Jones referred to collision data in Tables 4.5 and 4.6 of his Proof. These show that there have not been any serious incidents during the last five years involving pedestrians.
- When asked by Better Wetherby if an independent Road Safety Audit had been commissioned to access the potential risks to pedestrians crossing the A661, Mr Jones confirmed that it had not. Better Wetherby maintains that the site would increase the numbers of pedestrians needing to cross this busy road on a daily basis including secondary school pupils traveling by bus to schools in Harrogate.
- In this regard, I referred to a letter dated 17 July 2019 from NYCC Highways to Harrogate Borough Council, which raised concerns about the visibility for pedestrians crossing from the northern to the southern side of A661 and stated that a more appropriate crossing point should be investigated. My view is that further consideration should have been given to these risks and matters such as this should have in fact been captured in a SoCG between Leeds CC and the Appellants.
iii - Road Network
- The round table discussion served to confirm that there are few if any areas of common ground between Better Wetherby and Mr Jones, the Appellants’ witness. We highlighted our issues over the Trip Data assumptions for the Appeal Site and maintain that these are understated. Mr Jones sought to alleviate our concerns by explaining the industry proscribed models are sufficiently robust and the results could be relied upon. However, we argue that the reality of the day-to-day traffic situation in Wetherby is not reflected in the models results. As such, we maintain that this casts doubts on the reliability of the assessment of the impact at several key junctions in Wetherby.
- In discussion, we highlighted our ongoing concerns about the A661 Spofforth Hill / A661 West Gate/Linton Road Junction. We referred to Mr Jones’ TA Addendum, Paragraph 5.3.9 which states “Under the sensitivity test parameters (which i-Transport does not agree with) and with the flat profile applied, the junction is shown to operate within capacity in the AM peak hour. In the PM Peak hour, the queue on Linton Road during the PM peak extends by c.12 Passenger Car Units (PCUs), from 8 to 20 PCUs (equating to a total queue length of c.115m).” Mr Jones felt that a 150% increase in queue length was not an appropriate way to look at this and reinforced his view that queues of this nature could not be described as “severe”. We agreed to disagree.
- We highlighted the fact that Leeds City Council and Wetherby Town Council have for years grappled with the problem of how to best alleviate the traffic burden and improve the road system in and around the town, which are a legacy of our historic market town status. We maintain that the road status and capacity should be viewed in this light when considering the high bar of “Severity”.
iv - Accessibility
- Better Wetherby pointed out the fact that the Appeal site scored negatively on all of Harrogate Borough Council’s accessibility criteria policies and the equivalent policies of Leeds City Council. Given its remote location and rural setting for all intents and purposes this site will be car dependent. To emphasise the point we referred to Mr Jones’ Proof which states that a morning peak period commute from the Appeal site to Leeds City Centre would take approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes and compared this to the time it would take to complete the journey by car 33 minutes: (Source: AA Route Planner). We also highlighted the fact that the hourly frequency of evening and Sunday bus services was a major impediment to the patronage of this form of transportation, especially for travel to work purposes.
v - Mitigations
- We considered a proposal in Mr Jones’ evidence concerning the modification of the Linton Road junction, which he believes has some merit. In discussion, Better Wetherby raised several immediate concerns over the appropriateness of the proposal. These included that it would lead to a reduction in footway capacity, which is counter intuitive given that public policy is to aim to encourage people to do more walking; it would be likely to increase vehicle tracking conflicts especially for larger vehicles. Mr Jones agreed that the proposed “mitigation” measures had not been subject to a Road Safety Audit nor had LCCH been consulted on the proposal. Better Wetherby suggested that no weight should be given to these proposals.
- When asked about other potential mitigations, Mr Jones referred to his evidence and suggested that LCCH could utilise pooled S106 contributions to advance a series of proposals which had been cited for the nearby Bellway application. Mr Jones did however confirm that he had not identified any potential mitigations for the Crossley Street/Westgate junction. He acknowledged that LCCH had expressed concerns over capacity and increased queueing times at this junction, but that in his professional view these could not be considered severe.
- Our position is that no feasible mitigations have been forthcoming from either the HBC or LCC to address the issues, I have highlighted above. In this regard, paragraphs 108 (c) and 109 of the NPPF are relevant and we contend that is incumbent on LCC and the HBC to explain precisely how ‘significant impacts from the development on the transport network [in terms of capacity and congestion] “can be cost effectively mitigated to an acceptable degree” and thereby justify the acceptability of Section 106 monies to the residents of Wetherby and the surrounding villages. Better Wetherby would respectfully suggest that the Inspector should consider if it would be appropriate to apply a precautionary principle to highway matters in this Appeal, on the grounds of safety and the severity of residual cumulative impact on our local road network.
LANDSCAPE & VISUAL ASPECT
- It is common ground between the parties that the site and the immediate landscape is of medium value and that it is not a “valued” landscape with the meaning of the NPPF. Other general points of agreement between all the parties concerning the effects upon the landscape character are captured in Table 2 of the SOCG.
- Better Wetherby however maintains that a new urban development by definition harms the countryside and the existing biodiversity of the area which can only be justified if there are compelling reasons why it should take place. No such compelling reasons exist in this case to justify causing this unsustainable harm.
- Mr Spence gave evidence on behalf of Better Wetherby. He explained why in his professional view certain aspects of Harrogate Council’s landscape visual appraisal were flawed and that this had led to an underestimation of the harms to the intrinsic character and beauty of this countryside this development would cause.
- Both Mr Gannon witness for Harrogate BC and Mr Denney witness for the Appellants identified significant visual impacts from the bridleway west of the appeal site. We maintain that both Harrogate and the Appellant’s consultants failed to understand the sensitivity of other local receptors and magnitude of the impacts of the development from the outset and set out the case for the Inspector to consider whether the lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment for this Appeal to consider is a material omission, although Mr Denney felt that this was not required.
- We cannot understand why their “Viewpoint 6” was not included in the original assessment. This is where most harm to the view will be experienced (public bridleway south-east, intercepting the proposed development and the Bellway site). We maintain that this is a significant flaw in their impact assessment.
- We also maintain our view that their consultants’ approach was very poor, using old height datasets and an extremely rudimentary approach to 3D modelling.
- Furthermore, the proposed landscaping framework does not effectively mitigate against the impact on the existing A661 Gateway setting of Wetherby, the proposed access road and surrounding Bridleways and Cycle/footpath routes.
- Mr Denney asserted that the proposed extent of open space for the development was generous in comparison to other similar sites. However, we maintain that it is of questionable value to future residents. We are sceptical that the attenuation areas will be properly maintained and could be a danger to small children, attract vermin and quite possibly flood in periods of heavy rain. All of which raises long-term management issues.
- In summary, there is clearly a difference of opinion between ourselves and the Appellants with HBC wavering somewhere in the middle. I make this comment in the light of Mr Gannon’s evidence, and in response to questions from Mr Williamson QC about why his reports to the Planning Committee had moved from Refuse to Approve and back again for no apparent good reason. Mr Gannon responded that that was his professional opinion then and this is his professional opinion now. He was then asked if pressure had been brought on him, which he denied. I did intervene at that point, and referred to Ms Williams’ Proof (witness for the Council). In so doing I drew to the Inspector’s attention, Paragraph 5.17, which states that “existing and emerging plan policies are sufficient to dismiss the appeal”. We could not disagree with her assertion.
- Better Wetherby drew comfort from the responses provided by Mr Caird to our cross-examination on the Kirk Deighton SAC/SSSI Air Quality report. As such we consider that there is now common ground between all parties that the traffic generated by the Appeal Site should not have a significant impact on the great crested newt population.
- As anticipated the cross-examination of my witness, Mr Howard, on hydrological matters became technical in its nature. It focussed on rocks and soil formation, the direction of flow of surface and ground water affecting the micro-environment of the Kirk Deighton SAC/SSSI. To assist the Inspector in considering his judgment on this aspect of the Appeal, the Appellants and Better Wetherby have jointly prepared a position statement, which is appended to my Closing Statements (See Appendix 1).
- Generally, there seems to be common ground between all parties that Appeal the site is not in the Harrogate’s emerging Local Plan and that it is also outside of the planned Growth Strategy for the district. The fact that the Council can demonstrate a 5-year land supply is also not in dispute.
- Better Wetherby position remains that the Appeal is a device by the Appellants seeking to circumvent the process, which undermines the accepted plan-led approach to Planning in this Country as set out in Legislation.
- The Appellants initially proposed a major development on this and other land nearby in 2015, but were rebuffed by Harrogate Borough Council as they were again later when the Draft Local Plan was being formulated. What they then did was submit an Outline Planning Application back in April 2017, which was validated the following month. This started the clock of 13 weeks, by HBC admission, for determination. But when that time expired the Appellants then failed to take the option of appealing for non-determination.
- Of course, if the Appellants truly believe the site should form a natural extension to Wetherby, then they could have applied for it to be considered in the Leeds Site Allocation Process. It is a matter of public record that they did not.
- Ms Durham confirmed in her evidence in chief, that there is an emerging Local Plan, which would probably have been issued by now but for the Election and this was sensibly the contention of Ms Williams.
- Ms Durham provided a timely update on progress of the Local Planning Inspection report through DHCLG which we considered gave further credence to the Council’s view that the plan should be afforded significant weight.
- Mr Dunbavin, the Appellants’ Planning witness, would have us believe that there will be so many errors or unanswered issues that the Plan Inspector will not be reporting for some time, as a reason for allowing the Appeal. The question has to be asked that if that Inspector’s Report had been issued prior to the Inquiry or during it would I be making this statement now? I suspect not, for the simple reason that from the word go, this site was never a candidate for inclusion in the new Local Plan.
- Mr Dunbavin made almost exclusive play on this site being the silver bullet of Affordable Housing and offered little else of substance. His seemingly magical belief that this site can build affordable housing faster than the other sites put to him in Wetherby does not really stand scrutiny, other sites are already committed.
- His explanation of his failure to include two key development sites in Wetherby in his proof - one almost completed (Sand beck Lane, Phase 2) and one recently receiving planning permission (Racecourse Approach), was less than convincing. Had he done so, I believe that his would have significantly weakened his case for the need for affordable housing in Wetherby, given that these sites will provide almost three hundred affordable homes.
- Furthermore, he did not seem to appreciate that affordable housing need is not identified in the Leeds Core Strategy on a place by place basis or that s106 Agreements are not expected to fulfil the entire needs for Affordable Housing. I explained that Leeds City Council has its own affordable housing programme and that the activities of Registered Providers help contribute to it.
- Equally, his constant reference to grading under NPPF of ‘Substantial’ or ‘Significant’ cannot be taken too literally when there is no fixed definition of these terms.
- Although Mr Dunbavin generally stuck to his guns throughout cross-examination, I was less than convinced by his arguments that the development site would not result in coalescence of two distinct settlements – Kirk Deighton and Wetherby. In particular he was unable to provide evidence to support his assertion that there had not been dialogue between Harrogate and Leeds on the development boundary for Wetherby and yet accepted that there are no developments in the Leeds SAP outside of its administrative boundary. The fact that there is a Statement of Common Ground between the two authorities, which clearly establishes that there is no need whatsoever for either Leeds or Harrogate to seek land from one another to meet local housing needs. In my view negates this his arguments in this regard.
- I also pointed out to Mr Dunbavin that the characteristics of the nearby market town of Otley were similar to Wetherby, so I found it difficult to accept his argument that the proximity of Wetherby to Harrogate’s administrative boundary made it somehow unique from a planning perspective and that Harrogate had therefore omitted to consider the opportunities this provided.
- I was surprised by Mr Dunbavin’s response when asked to consider the fact that the development site was in the parish of Kirk Deighton and was also outside the settlement boundary, he said this was of no consequence. Better Wetherby, maintains our position that the development would constitute an unplanned extension of the town of Wetherby and is contrary to good planning practice in that it would cause coalescence of Wetherby with the quite distinct rural village of Kirk Deighton.
- It should also be recognised that Leeds City Council now objects to the application. We appreciate that this was not the case when the Appeal site was approved by Harrogate Borough Council back in September 2018. Had it been the case, I very much doubt that we would have had to spend four precious days of our time this week hearing this Inquiry at significant expense to the public purse. Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing. Leeds City Council are clear that they consider that the Appeal Site would severely impact on Wetherby and destabilise our fully assessed local housing need.
- Wetherby already has 500 new houses which are built or construction is well advanced. Furthermore, 800 houses were recently approved at the Racecourse Approach site, east of the town, which has the potential for 1100 homes in total. We simply do not need the extra 210 houses that this development would bring if the Appeal was successful. Plans are in place that will address any perceived shortage of affordable houses in the district so this cannot be deemed to be a benefit of the Appeal site.
FINAL REMARKS AND RECOMMENDATION
- The Inquiry has heard that Harrogate Council’s has sufficient land for housing. The emerging local plan is at an advanced stage. The Appeal Site is not in the emerging local plan and is outside development limits. The resulting harm to landscape and loss of agricultural land would also outweigh any benefits which appear contrary to local planning policies.
- It should be recognised that their neighbouring authority, Leeds City Council has an adopted Site Allocation Plan and Core Strategy and a five-year housing land supply. As such, the housing needs for Wetherby are pre-determined and wholly capable of being met. We believe this should weigh heavily against the Appellants’ purported benefits in respect of the affordable housing this development would bring.
- As mentioned previously, Leeds City Council objects to the development in principle. It has significant concerns about the impact on Wetherby’s infrastructure, including local highways. In this regard, we consider that this Appeal should give significant weight to the Council’s objection. I repeat what I said in the paragraph 28 and 29 of my opening statement.
- For all these reasons, and in light of the evidence presented on behalf of Better Wetherby, I submit that this Appeal should be dismissed and planning permission refused.