Public Inquiry - Stockeld Park/Hallam appeal.
The following opening statement was made on behalf of Better Wetherby by Mr Paul Crossan on 17th Dec:
The following opening statement was made on behalf of Better Wetherby by Mr Paul Crossan on 17th Dec:
- Good morning Inspector and representatives for the Appellants and Harrogate Borough Council.
- My name is Paul Crossan. I am a resident of Wetherby and a member of the Better Wetherby Partnership. I will act as their appointed advocate throughout these proceedings.
- The application which is the subject of this appeal, will increase the size of Wetherby by building on its western border, but within the bounds of Harrogate Borough Council.
- There will be no alternative for the residents of this development but to use the services and infrastructure of Wetherby as there is no other nearby settlement or facilities provided on site. This is the main reason why the Better Wetherby Partnership has taken such an interest in this application.
- I should explain that the Better Wetherby Partnership is a consortium of local people from a variety of organisations. They each contribute to initiatives designed to help make Wetherby and the surrounding villages better for present and future generations. Our current focus is addressing concerns about the negative impact on the Town and local area resulting from large-scale house building.
- Members of Better Wetherby, include Wetherby Town Council, Kirk Deighton Parish Council and Collingham & Linton Parish Council. Collectively, we have scrutinised the planning application submitted by Hallam Land Management and Stockeld Park, as it has moved through the various stages of the planning process.
- We submitted written objections as well as attending and speaking at the relevant Council Planning meetings. We also organised two well-attended public meetings to ensure that local people and businesses were apprised of the implications and to gather their views. Additionally, we have commented extensively on the developing local plans of both Harrogate Borough Council and Leeds City Council and attended and spoke at many of their respective Inspection Hearings.
- At the end of these public meetings and after each Planning Committee meeting, I was left in no doubt about the strength of feeling locally about the inappropriateness of this development. People are genuinely concerned about its location and the negative impact it would have on our overburdened local infrastructure.
- It is exactly Four Hundred and Forty-Four days ago, that members of Better Wetherby Partnership appeared right here, in this very room, to set out our opposition to the outline planning application relevant to this Appeal, under the Council’s “Right to Speak” Scheme.
- I can tell you that the Planning Committee’s ultimate and reluctant decision to approve the application was one of the darkest days in our town’s recent history. Who would have thought that we would be back here over one year later, and this time in full support of the Council’s position?
- But even after that fateful day, we did not give up the fight. We lobbied our local Member of Parliament and Town Councillors to write to the Secretary of State to have the application called-in.
- Furthermore, we advanced plans to seek a judicial review should that avenue fail and in doing so received many, many pledges of financial support from local residents who felt like us that we needed to right a wrong.
- So, we are convinced that whilst a substantial number of individual objections have been lodged by members of our community and partner organisations, they have full confidence in Better Wetherby representing their concerns at this Inquiry. It is therefore a privilege to be here to present their case.
- Over the next four days, I imagine that the Appellants’ will try to pick as many holes as possible in the Council’s decision-making processes. I think it should however, be recognised that the Members of Harrogate’s Planning Committee have largely remained consistent in their views about not supporting development on this site.
- Back in April 2018, the Planning Committee delayed approval in order to seek more information about the application. Then in July 2018, they unanimously rejected it, but were subsequently advised that they might lose an appeal, or so we believe. As result an outline planning application was approved in September 2018, but even then, as one Committee Member stated at the tail end of that meeting, they did so “with a heavy heart”.
- I have to say that it came as a pleasant surprise when we learnt that the Planning Committee had decided to reconsider and were now minded to refuse the application. However, any joy was short-lived once we were told that the Appellants had lodged this appeal for Non-Determination.
- That is why Better Wetherby is here today as a Rule 6 Party. We are here to represent residents of Wetherby and its surrounding villages. And we come prepared for our evidence to receive the same degree of scrutiny and weight as both the Appellants’ and the Council’s.
- I will now say a little bit more about our position.
Starting with some local context.
- Wetherby is an historic market town in West Yorkshire. The town lies 12 miles north- east of Leeds and 10 miles south-east of Harrogate. It is also close to the county's border with North Yorkshire.
- Our town is defined as a major settlement in the Leeds Core Strategy but has the unenviable characteristics of also being a 'border' town with complex boundary conditions and limited infrastructure.
- Most of Wetherby falls within Leeds City Council's boundary, but parts of the town's road infrastructure are governed by Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council. This continues to create serious problems for the long-term planning for a sustainable future for the town.
- Wetherby comprises 6,300 households and dwellings, which accommodate a population of around 11,000 people. But with recent rapid growth in new houses and with hundreds more in the pipeline, these numbers are set to soar in the years to come.
- Compared to the rest of Leeds, we have a high proportion of older people and relatively low proportions of young people, and people of working age. So, getting the right mix of new houses is an important consideration for us.
- At the heart of the town is the river Wharfe and its historic narrow road bridge, one of two Scheduled Monuments in the town along-side the remains of Wetherby Castle. In addition to these, there are almost 30 Grade 2 listed buildings in the town which are mostly clustered within the central Conservation Area.
- I do hope Sir, that you have had the opportunity to see the town centre on your unaccompanied visit and can now appreciate some of the physical constraints and challenges we face, particularly around our limited infrastructure.
- So, you now know a bit more about Wetherby. Against this backdrop, I will touch on some of the issues that will ultimately decide the outcome of this Inquiry. Let me start with Planning matters.
- We believe that it is in everyone’s interest for the Harrogate’s emerging Local Plan to be given significant weight in order to assist proper planning of the Borough over the next few years. Without such stability, planning chaos could ensue, as cunning developers try to take full advantage of a period of instability. As is the case here.
- It should also be recognised that their neighbouring authority, Leeds City Council has an adopted Site Allocation Plan, Core Strategy and five-year land supply. As such, the housing needs for Wetherby are pre-determined and wholly capable of being met.
- Clearly the Appellants’ take a different view. Their Planning expert likens the decision to playing a game of top trumps. I would however, characterise their case as backing three horses in the Planning Appeal Stakes Race. The old plan, the new plan and the Leeds plan.
- They will no doubt argue that the policies in the Old Plan are out of date or far too restrictive. That might be enough to get them over the winning line, but in truth it’s probably a bit of a long shot.
- So, they have covered this bet by arguing that the New Plan should receive less than moderate weight. If that is the case, then the HBC defence would fail and the Developer will probably be onto a winner.
- However, just in case that particular horse happens to fall at the second last, they’ve put a shilling or two on the Leeds Plan to save the day, by attempting to make a case around no defined boundary between Leeds and Harrogate and the site addressing a shortage of affordable houses in the area, which is patently not the case.
- So, we very much look forward to tackling each of these matters on Day 3 of the Inquiry.
- In the preceding two days, we will hear how the Appellants plan to box off the other important planning policy considerations that Better Wetherby and to some degree the Council have raised. These include the specific harms this site would inevitably cause to the surrounding landscape and natural environment as well as the adverse impact on the local strategic highway and other aspects of our infrastructure.
- This afternoon our focus is on transport and highways matters.
- I don’t plan to rehearse our arguments now but I do think that it is important to set out the context.
- Wetherby experiences issues common to many market towns. Narrow streets that are quickly clogged up with peak time traffic and not enough off-street parking to minimise on-street congestion.
- Wetherby has limited public transport provision. No rail services and limited bus services beyond local villages and city centres of Harrogate, Leeds and York.
- The town does have very good access both north and southbound onto the A1(M) which further encourages cars accessing the town and, arguably, car ownership amongst residents.
- However, getting to the A1(M) and the nearby A58 from the Appeal site would mean traveling directly through Wetherby Town Centre at peak times adding even more congestion to our narrow roads.
- There are simply no mitigations to offset the adverse impact that this particular development will bring to our local highways.
- So, we will contend that the NPPF Test with regards to “severity”, should reflect our local circumstances.
- Tomorrow morning, in support of the Council’s second putative reason for refusal, Landscape and Visual Impact, we will provide strong evidence in support of our position that the proposed development will urbanise this highly valued rural gateway to Wetherby, whilst taking away a precious piece of farmland.
- Given the significant harm this development would cause, we believe most other local authorities would have requested an Environmental Impact Assessment, particularly given its scale and countryside setting. It still baffles me why an EIA was not requested by Harrogate at the time.
- We have submitted cutting edge visualisations that provide an accurate picture of how the development will be viewed from key locations surrounding the site. And we look forward to the opportunity to deal with the rebuttal statement issued by the Appellants in this regard.
- I perhaps should mention here that we understand and support the decision to consider the Council’s third putative reason for refusal, Loss of Agricultural Land, under written representations.
- I would however wish for it to be known that whilst the Appellants may consider that the loss of this agricultural land would not be material, we wholeheartedly disagree with their assessment.
- We would therefore respectfully ask Sir, that when considering this matter, you take into consideration the recent loss of land on the adjacent Bellway site, which means an overall loss of over 25 hectares of good quality agricultural land in this area.
- This land will never be replaced, and therefore compromises the ability of future generations to meet their own food needs. This, I would argue, is the antithesis of sustainable development.
- Tomorrow afternoon, we face the daunting prospect of trying to convince you Sir, that this development presents a clear and present danger to a protected species, our old friend the Great Crested Newt.
- Again, I do not plan to rehearse the main aspects of our case now, but suffice to say I believe that this will all hinge on the balance of risk. I am confident that the strong evidence my witness will present should serve to tip those scales in our favour and thereby add extra weight to our desire to see the habitat of this important species fully protected. Again, I should add that we come prepared to robustly challenge the Appellant’s Rebuttal Statement during the Cross-Examination stage.
- Before I move to my concluding remarks, I’d like to say a few words about our local Infrastructure.
- Given the location of the site, it is very likely that residents residing on the new site would be inclined to utilise the local services within Wetherby. In fact, this sits at the heart of the Appellants ‘case to justify the development going ahead.
- We will evidence throughout this Inquiry that such a decision will place undue pressure on the existing infrastructure within Wetherby, including our education and health and well-being facilities.
- All of our primary schools are currently full. Taking into account recent planning approvals and lengthy build out rates, there may not be sufficient school places in the area to meet all new demand across every year group.
- Our GP surgeries are also feeling the pressure as evidenced by the lengthy delays’ patients experience on a daily basis when trying to secure an appointment. Farcically, this now results in early morning queues forming outside Crossley Street, the nearest local practice, which has over 11,000 registered patient. This situation is symptomatic of a rapid recent increase in population and our demographic characteristics.
- I should also mention that as of today, and I checked this morning, none of the dentists in Wetherby are accepting new NHS patients. There were two in Harrogate, however these would only accept adults aged 18 or over.
- On health-related matters, it would be remiss of me not to mention our concerns over the worsening air quality in Wetherby, particularly but not exclusively around one of the nearest local primary schools at Crossley Street. Wetherby is not an AQMA, but at our request, Leeds City Council has agreed to monitor air quality at certain strategic location in the town.
- Better Wetherby believes that our rapidly growing market town already suffers from unwelcome pollution from increasing traffic congestion. So, this development given its remote location and car dependency, can only make matters worse.
- So, to summarize.
- As Better Wetherby, we have consistently demonstrated our ability to provide a strong and clear voice for the people of Wetherby on the issues raised by this application. We are therefore uniquely placed to play an active role in this Public Inquiry.
- As I see it, the Appellants’ willingness to cough up over two million pounds through a S106 Agreement, shows that the stakes are incredibly high.
Which brings me to my final point.
- The notion that this development is seen by the Appellants as a natural extension to Wetherby, is an anathema to us.
- Harrogate do not need these houses. Leeds do not need these houses. And Wetherby certainly does not need these houses.
- All in all. We consider that this Appeal is an attempt to undermine the systematic planning processes adhered to by both Harrogate Borough Council and Leeds City Council.
- We believe that Harrogate Borough Council has acted correctly in refusing permission for a development that is inappropriate for the area in question.
- Leeds City Council also objects to the development on the grounds that it will adversely impact on Wetherby.
- Better Wetherby therefore respectfully invites a recommendation that the appeal is dismissed.