Harrogate goes to war over planning inspector’s housing ruling

Harrogate is one of Yorkshire's most expensive property hotspots
Harrogate is one of Yorkshire's most expensive property hotspots
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Members of a council in one of Yorkshire’s property hotspots are to challenge a planning inspector over his warning thousands more homes than currently planned for will be needed in Harrogate over the coming years.

The location of future housing is becoming an increasingly contentious issue across Yorkshire as councils draw-up and revise long term plans for future development and set aside land for housing and jobs.

In Harrogate, a hearing discussing the blueprint was recently suspended after planning inspector, Phillip Ware, warned over 4,500 homes, on top of the almost 4,000 already planned for, could be needed in the spa town and surrounding district up to 2024. Question marks were also raised about the amount of land set aside for industry.

Harrogate Borough Council held an extraordinary meeting to discuss withdrawing the plan which has been years in the making. However councillors, queried the numbers of homes the inspector said would be needed, arguing it could not protect the green belt. Members also agreed to voice concerns with the Government.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, a council spokeswoman said: “They decided to write to Phillip Ware and ask for a suspension of the examination in order to give the council the opportunity to find extra employment land.”

She said members had at the same time queried his recommendations on housing.

“The council will be making formal representations to the Government and the Planning Inspectorate over the handling of the case,” she added.

If the talks cannot produce a way forward the authority will then meet to discuss withdrawing its local plan. It would then have to put together a new one.

The discussions come as figures from the Government yesterday showed the number of house building starts in England has risen by almost one-third. Building work began on some 36,450 homes during the first three months of 2014 - 31 per cent higher than the same period last year.

Annual housing starts totalled 133,650 in the 12 months to March, 2014.

Mr Ware said Harrogate Borough Council wants to provide 390 extra homes a year. However, he says other assessments have put the figure needed at between 862 and 1,086 which, using even the most conservative of the estimates, would mean a shortfall of 472 homes a year and over 4,500 extra homes over 10 years.

Along with nearly 4,000 already planned, this could mean building over 8,500 homes across the district over the next decade.

Earlier Coun Helen Flynn, the council’s Lib Dem shadow member for finance and resources, warned that without a plan in place it may be harder for the council to protect sites from development because it cannot prove it has enough land set aside to meet predicted demand.

Despite yesterday’s Government figures there are still concerns not enough homes are being built with Chris Walker, head of housing and planning at think-tank Policy Exchange, saying: “We are still building about 100,000 too few homes to keep up with demand.”

However, the issue of where to build has caused controversy across Yorkshire with York Council’s plans to earmark sites for up to 22,000 homes provoking fierce debate and Kirklees and Sheffield have also seen growing rows over where new homes could be built in future.