Exclusive: Council spent £250,000 on Harrogate planning blueprint it tore up

TAXPAYERS HAVE footed a bill of almost £250,000 for a planning blueprint for one of Yorkshire’s property hotspots that has since been withdrawn after an inspector raised concerns thousands more homes were needed in future.

Helen Flynn

As part of details released to the Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act, Harrogate Borough Council said spending so far totalled £245,000 - although this figure does not include staffing costs.

After voting to withdraw its Local Plan, which earmarks sites suitable for future development, the authority will now have to go away and draw up a new document offering extra sites for houses and jobs, which will then be considered by an inspector.

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In the Freedom of Information response, the authority said: “Preliminary work indicates that it will take in the order of three years to prepare a plan for submission, subject to no delays or further changes to national planning policy or legislation.”

Earlier this year, Planning Inspector Phillip Ware warned the council’s plans for an 390 extra homes a year fell dramatically short of need.

He claimed other assessments put the figure 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 more than 8,500 homes across the district over the next decade.

The deputy leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, Coun Helen Flynn, has raised fears that without a plan in place, the council will find it harder to prevent developers trying to build on sites which it wishes to protect as it cannot demonstrate it has suitable alternative sites for development to meet predicted housing demands.

“It just represents a phenomenal waste of public money,” she said yesterday when she learned of the £245,000 figure obtained by the Yorkshire Post.

She claimed the authority now faced having to find more cash to spend on a new plan.

But a spokesman for Harrogate Borough Council said withdrawing its sites and policies development plan, which together with another blueprint forms its Local Plan, did not mean work already undertaken would be wasted, as much could be incorporated into the new document.

He said: “One of the first tasks in the preparation of a new plan will be to get a revised housing target agreed, as any increased level of housing must have the infrastructure – such as roads and schools - to support it.

“In the meantime, talk of a ‘planning free for all’ is wide of the mark. The council will continue to determine planning applications using policies in the adopted Core Strategy and Harrogate District Local Plan, taking into account the five year supply position and policy guidance set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.”

The council stressed £54,410 was spent after the Government introduced significant changes to the planning system, which mean planning inspectors need to be confident proposals meet the district’s needs for future development and the demand for schools, roads and other infrastructure.