Council leader launches attack on ‘absurd’ planning system

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A CONSERVATIVE council leader has launched a stinging broadside against the Government over the “absurd” planning system after fears were expressed over house-building targets for vast swathes of rural Yorkshire.

Ryedale District Council is faced with overhauling a 25-year vision for development which it has been working on for the last seven years after a planning inspector raised concerns that not enough homes will be built over the next quarter of a century.

The council’s leader, Coun Keith Knaggs, has told the Yorkshire Post that he believes the national planning system is over-burdened with bureaucracy which is creating significant delays in pushing ahead with vitally-needed house-building programmes.

He has admitted that the cash-starved authority will be left open to costly planning appeals from developers if no clearly defined strategy under the Development Plan is in place.

Coun Knaggs, who will step down as the council’s leader at the end of the month, said: “It remains disappointing that the planning system overseen by the Ministers who are always telling us that we are a barrier is so painfully drawn out.

“The process of preparing this plan began in 2005 and the cost of officer time and consultancy work must be edging towards the million pound mark.

“Absurd, but it is required by a system which requires the same amount of evidence such as for the City of Birmingham.”

The need for affordable housing remains one of the most pressing issues across North Yorkshire, and specific concerns have been voiced over a lack of homes in Ryedale.

Figures from the National Housing Federation have shown that Ryedale has the biggest gap between wages and house prices in the region. The average cost of a home in 2011 was £223,080, while the average wage was just £16,442.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in October that fears had been raised that rural villages in the district could face a “slow death” if local people cannot find affordable homes. The council’s housing manager, Kim Robertshaw, issued the warning in the wake of two surveys which were carried out in two Ryedale parishes - Slingsby and Burythorpe - to determine the need for affordable homes.

Planning Inspector Stephen Pratt, who has been appointed by the Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles to analyse the planning blueprint for Ryedale, confirmed he believes the document’s key strategic policies for the location and spread of development appear sound.

However, he stressed the proposed house-building targets of 200 dwellings a year will not meet the needs of the district when assessed against the latest projections for as many as 252 homes a year.

Coun Knaggs confirmed it was the second time that the draft Development Plan had been examined, and claimed that “the goalposts had been moved both times”.

He said he believed that a target of 240 new homes a year was a realistic proposal which would not “seriously affect” the rest of the draft plan, although he conceded that the document is unlikely to be adopted until well into next year.

The Department for Communities and Local Government maintained the planning system is being simplified to eradicate red tape and “ensure sensible and sustainable developments can go ahead”.

A spokesman said planning guidance has been reduced from 1,300 pages to just 50 to streamline the local plan preparation process and support is available to councils to help them undertake reviews of draft documents.

Coun Knaggs announced earlier this month that he is stepping down following 17 years as council leader. Coun Linda Cowling has been named as his successor.

The district council will launch a six-week public consultation on proposed changes to the draft Development Plan in the New Year.