Massive housing development to go ahead despite transport fears

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CONTROVERSIAL plans for one of the biggest housing developments a North Yorkshire district has seen are due to be approved despite grave fears over the impact of the multi-million pound scheme.

The Sowerby Gateway project has prompted a wave of opposition after the plans for more than 900 homes built in the village on the outskirts of Thirsk were unveiled.

But planning officers at Hambleton District Council have recommended that the hugely contentious scheme should be approved when the authority’s planning committee meets a week today.

Sowerby Parish Council and Thirsk Town Council have both raised a series of objections amid concerns over whether the area’s transport infrastructure will be able to cope with the scale of the development.

Opponents have voiced their worries about the lack of extra educational facilities for the hundreds of children the development will bring in.

Objections have also been raised as to why one village is having to bear the brunt of nearly two-thirds of the district’s housing allocation.

But the council’s leader, Coun Neville Huxtable, maintained the development is vital to stop the lack of affordable housing reaching crisis point in the coming years. He said: “We as a council are fully aware of the opposition the proposals have generated, but I want to stress there will be a full and frank debate before any decision is reached.

“The planning meeting will be held in public and there will be an opportunity for all sides to express their views.

“The development is of huge importance to the Hambleton district, and we are committed to making sure that the right decision is reached.”

The Sowerby Gateway development would provide 920 homes, 40 per cent of which are affordable, a new seven classroom primary school, employment opportunities and community facilities over the next 15 years. Outline permission has already been granted to part of the scheme, which was first mooted back in 2007 and alongside the proposed £200m North Northallerton development master-plan, represents the biggest development ever to take place in the district.

More than 150 villagers attended a public meeting in July over the proposals, voicing concerns about transport bottlenecks on the road into Sowerby and a lack of secondary school provision being included in the scheme.

But developers from the Castlevale Group are due to undertake major highway improvements, including alterations to the slip roads from the A168. The work which the developers have promised will be completed within six months of the first home being occupied – if permission is granted.

The scheme – which would be completed in three phases over the next 15 years – is expected to help kickstart the Hambleton district’s economy by bringing in millions of pounds of investment.

The housing development is seen as key to addressing a critical lack of affordable properties in the district.

Latest figures from the National Housing Federation have revealed that the average cost of a home in North Yorkshire is £223,065, while the average wage is less than £20,000.

The Sowerby Gateway scheme was identified as part of the council’s Local Development Framework – an overarching document which guides all future developments in the area.

The development blueprint stipulates that the south-west Thirsk area will be used for a range of different schemes including housing, employment, leisure and local amenities.

The planning meeting to decide on the outline planning application for the Sowerby Gateway development will take place at the Civic Centre in Northallerton on Thursday next week.

The Sowerby Gateway item is scheduled to be heard from 10.30am.