Plan to build homes on field in West Yorkshire approved as councillors say they 'had no reason' to refuse it

Councillors have approved a controversial housing development in Silsden, saying they had no reason in planning law to refuse it.

Fields off Hainsworth Road, Silsden
Fields off Hainsworth Road, Silsden

And one objector to the scheme said the decision “doesn’t inspire my confidence in local democracy.”

An application to build over 40 homes on a field next to the Leeds Liverpool Canal, known as the Willows, was refused by members of Bradford Council’s Regulatory and Appeals Committee last year.

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Members felt that the vehicle access to the site, off Hainsworth Road, was inadequate to support a housing estate of this size.

Applicant Mick Smith appealed that decision, but his appeal was dismissed by a planning inspector last summer.

However – that decision did not prove to be the victory for objectors they may have originally thought it was.

The inspector dismissed the appeal because there was not enough affordable housing included in the plans, but disagreed with the council’s decision that the access to the site was inadequate.

The plans were re-submitted, this time with a 20 per cent affordable housing provision, and members of the Committee discussed the latest application at a meeting on Thursday.

Planning officers had advised members to approve the plans, pointing out that a Government inspector had already deemed the highways access to be safe.

The application was only in outline form – a more detailed application will have to be submitted in future – but the meeting heard that around 44 homes would be built on the site.

Coun Rebecca Whitaker (Cons, Craven) pointed out that the land had been dismissed as a potential housing site in the council’s draft local plan, which is currently out to public consultation.

She said the Willows was listed as a site in Silsden “unsuitable” for housing.

But she was told that as the local plan has yet to be adopted, and would not likely be fully adopted for some years, members could only give “limited weight” to this consideration.

Planning officer Stuart Currie said: “The Local Plan is early days – we have to deal with applications here and now. The local plan might not be adopted for at least another 18 months. Time doesn’t stand still – we have to deal with planning applications put before us. We can’t have a vacuum where we don’t deal with any applications for 18 months.”

Members were advised that if they refused the new plans after an inspector already said the only reason the appeal was dismissed was a lack of affordable housing, it would be very difficult for the council to defend itself at appeal.

One objector Stuart Clarkson said: “I’m disappointed that these plans are again being presented to this committee after you refused it last February. It doesn’t inspire my confidence in local democracy when an unelected inspector, after making a single site visit during a pandemic, decided the highways access was safe.”

He said that “morally” the committee could not approve a site that they had previously rejected.

Coun Alan Wainwright (Lab, Tong) said: “The Government inspector made it quite clear that there is no reason for us to refuse this on highways grounds, much to my disappointment.”

Chair David Warburton (Lab, Wyke): “The inspector clearly overruled our previous decision, and we can’t find any other reason to refuse it.”

The committee then approved the plans.

Coun Warburton told objectors: “We do have some of the same concerns as you, but we have to follow planning law, which is why we have gone with this decision. I know you’re not happy with it, but that’s what happens sometimes.”

The committee asked that when more detailed plans for the site are submitted, they also come before the committee.