North Yorkshire County councillors dismissed the scheme by UK Coal’s successor firm Harworth Estates at Stillingfleet, near York, after hearing a wealth of objections over health, impact on residents and road safety grounds alongside a raft of accusations against the authority’s planning department.
After the vote, Stillingfleet councillor Richard Musgrave said he was thrilled with the decision as it had lifted a cloud of uncertainty that had hung for many years over residents of several villages.
He said the proposal had been “totally unsuitable” due to its scale and isolated location and called on Harworth Estates to completely rethink how the site could be used in the future.
Numerous residents and councillors had highlighted to the three-hour hearing the county council’s failure to enforce planning conditions imposed on the site in the 1970s to return it to arable farm use after the mine closed in 2004.
Coun John McCartney said: “I really think it is something the council should be a bit ashamed about, maybe should apologise. But it also means you have a lot of angry residents, wound up because they feel betrayed. ”
Planning officers said it had not been considered “expedient, reasonable or in the public interest” to pursue enforcement action as the landowner had demolished 75 per cent of the buildings on the site, despite a large area of it remaining covered in concrete hardstanding.
Coun Zoe Metcalfe said: “Why do we have conditions if we are not going to enforce them?”
As a result of the council’s inaction, the meeting was told, residents would have no confidence future breaches would be enforced.
The meeting was told Harworth Estates stood to profit from UK Coal’s wrongdoing in breaching planning conditions and reap the benefits of the council’s inaction over a decade, allowing a legal loophole to develop and paving the way for a large-scale, intensive industrial application in open countryside.
Residents also accused the authority’s planning officers of presenting a highly biased report, allowing all of Harworth Estate’s claims to go unchecked, but challenging all of the objectors arguments, saying the department had a conflict of interest due to its failings.
Councillors were told planning officers had drawn “convenient conclusions” and reinterpreted Selby District Council’s planning policies, which the district council had insisted completely ruled out such a development on the site.
Planning officers denied cherry-picking arguments to bolster their recommendation to approve the plan, and said they had “balanced the interpretation” of Selby district’s policies.
An agent for Harworth Estates said the opportunity to have the site restored to agricultural land was no longer available “for whatever reason”, without offering an explanation as to why the planning conditions had been breached.
He said with an average of 25 trucks entering and leaving the two hectare site a day, it should not be considered a large-scale intensive use and due to the concrete left on site the birds in the trees were the sole ecological interest.
The agent said an unused site would be a wasted asset, adding: “It would be hard to find a more suitable site for recycling.”
While planning officers said it would not lead to unacceptable impacts on amenities in the area or road safety, several councillors said they felt residents would inevitably be affected by dust from the operation.