Residents who opposed 53-home development in Harrogate slam council for not live streaming meeting

Residents who oppose a 53-home development in Harrogate have strongly criticised North Yorkshire Council following a planning committee meeting about the scheme last month.

North-east developer Jomast wants to build the homes at Knox Lane in Bilton but it has been met with fierce opposition from local residents who have raised a host of concerns about the proposals with contamination proving to be particularly contentious.

The application had been before Harrogate Borough Council’s planning committee twice previously but both times they were deferred as councillors were not not satisfied that the ground had been thoroughly investigated for toxic materials.

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This is because some of the site was previously part of a railway that pulled hoppers and tankers for the gas works in Bilton.

Harrogate residents ‘outraged’ that crunch planning meeting was not live streamedHarrogate residents ‘outraged’ that crunch planning meeting was not live streamed
Harrogate residents ‘outraged’ that crunch planning meeting was not live streamed

On May 31, the application went before North Yorkshire Council’s planning commitee but was deferred by councillors for a third time after the developer failed to provide reports that were requested at the previous meeting on toxic materials at the site and on the effects of living below power lines.

Harrogate & Knaresborough planning committees are routinely streamed live on YouTube, however, on the day there were technical difficulties meaning the only way to watch proceedings was in the council chamber.

Knox resident, Alison Hayward, told a meeting of local councillors last week that residents are “extremely disappointed and outraged” that the meeting was not live streamed, which she said meant a host of concerned residents could not watch the meeting. She described this as an “injustice of local community democracy.”

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She also criticised the council for holding the meeting during the half-term holidays and said the minutes of the meeting published afterwards were inadequate.

Ms Hayward said: “There was a very strenuous case made and well-documented problems made by residents about the hazards with this devolpment. Why was it scheduled again for a time when its likely to be less convenient for local residents to attend? It was especially galling when there happened to be no live stream which is invaluable for people who can’t attend in person.

“The effect is there was no proper record of the meeting. This is contrary to the right of public scrutiny of record. The public was disadvantaged and open government principles were compromised.“

A second Knox resident, Adele Laurie Wilson, queried why the plans were allowed to be brought back for a third time despite the developer not supplying councillors with the requested toxicology reports that caused a decision to be deferred last time.

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Ms Laurie Wilson, who attended the meeting on May 31, also said she was “appauled” that the council’s legal officer warned councillors about the costly risks of refusing the plans should the developer win an appeal.

North Yorkshire Council officer Mark Codman read out a statement on behalf of the legal, planning and democratic services departments.

Mr Codman said: “The council does apologise for the lack of live stream. Live streaming was introduced to watch meetings safely during covid. As the audiovisual system was not working there it would not have been possible to record the meeting. There is no requirement under law for public meetings to be live streamed or recorded and there’s no public right that recordings of meetings be available in addition to the minutes.

“It is not the council’s practice that verbatim minutes be produced on planning committee meetings. The minutes accurately reflect the decision taken and reflect good practice.

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“During the course of the debate it became apparent that councilor Aldred and other members of the committee were minded to vote against the officer recommendation in the report to approve the application and grant planning permission. Indeed councillor Aldred proposed an amendment to this effect. The council solicitor and the planning manager both made interventions to remind members of the need to identify clear material planning reasons for refusing the application.

“It was made clear to members of the committee that they were free to vote in whichever way they wanted but were advised of the implications of their choosing to do so.”