Approval of controversial Castle Hill scheme could set dangerous precedent for other heritage sites, campaigners say

Campaigners who have fought to stop controversial plans for a café and visitor centre on Huddersfield’s iconic Castle Hill say approving the scheme could set a dangerous precedent for other ancient monument sites.

Castle Hill in Huddersfield

Huddersfield Civic Society (HCS) believes a decision by the government to allow Kirklees Council to decide the contentious Castle Hill development potentially leaves other landmarks at risk.

It was the Civic Society that requested the government “call in” the Castle Hill plan for review after it was passed by the council last October.

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However Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick refused to do so.

Consequently the application on behalf of local entrepreneurs Mick and Barry Thandi will now go ahead unless it is vetoed at the eleventh hour by Historic England – the commission that oversees historic buildings and scheduled monuments in England – by refusing to give consent for the development.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Historic England may not come to a decision for around three months.

During that time HCS will continue to lobby Historic England to refuse that consent.

It is the latest stage in the drawn-out saga of Castle Hill and comes almost 20 years after the Thandis demolished the former Castle Hill Hotel and began building a bigger replacement.

They were eventually forced by Kirklees Council to clear the site, which has remained redundant ever since.

However they have made multiple attempts to build something on the former pub footprint, which is leased to them by the council.

The latest plan involves a low-lying café/restaurant with bedrooms and interpretation facilities for visitors plus a car park.

Mr Jenrick dashed hopes for a government veto when he decided not to call in this application. He said he was content “that it should be determined by the local planning authority”.

But HCS believes that sets a dangerous precedent as one of the reasons the minister would call-in an application and make a decision on it was if it “could have significant effects beyond their immediate locality.”

HCS secretary Martin Kilburn said: “There remains significant concern that approval of the Castle Hill development establishes a precedent, which will mean any local authority can approve a major development within the green belt and curtilage of both listed and scheduled monuments anywhere in the country.

“When this is coupled with a size of development which is accepted as being far greater than that needed simply in order to provide private funding of required public facilities, we struggle to understand why this does not fall within the identified remit of the Secretary of State.

“This is why HCS is both deeply disappointed and troubled by the decision of Robert Jenrick’s department not to call-in the planning decision on Castle Hill.”

The HCS says current national policy has specific provisions to protect such sites which last October’s planning decision failed to apply appropriately.

Mr Kilburn added: “Declining our call-in request flies in the face of current and proposed planning policy stated to provide protection for the green belt and protection for environmental and heritage assets – to include continuing to protect our treasured countryside and historic places.

“The grounds given for the decision are based on the contention that the government is committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.

““This decision appears to us to give tacit approval for wholesale breaches of national green belt policy.”

Kirklees Council has said it will issue the decision notice for the application even though Historic England has confirmed that it has yet to assess a Scheduled Monument Consent application for the Castle Hill proposal.