Where, and how the district will grow in the decades to come will go before the public, as a series of hearings scrutinising the council’s key planning policies is set to begin.
Just over a year since Harrogate Borough councillors approved a draft of the district’s Local Plan, assigning land for thousands of new homes and businesses, a series of public hearings are set to be held.
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The next hurdle for the key planning document begins on Tuesday, January 15, with up to 20 days of hearings, led by government inspector, Richard Schofield.
Earlier this year 20 sections of the plan were identified, and questions put to Harrogate Borough Council to address. The ‘legal compliance and soundness of the plan’ depends on these, according to documents submitted by Mr Schofield.
Coun Rebecca Burnett, HBC Cabinet Member for planning, said the examination will determine if the plan is ‘justified, effective and consistent with national policy.’
She said: “The plan sets out our vision for the future of the Harrogate district, with the aim of people being able to afford their own home and live and work locally. It’s our framework for development over the next 20 years; for a district that’s progressive, vibrant and a place where people wish to live, work and visit.
“It tackles a number of significant issues including a lack of affordable housing which, unless managed, will force today’s young people to move further and further away from the communities they grew up in or stay away because they cannot afford to return. Evidence collected as part of the development of the local plan also shows businesses in the district are unable to grow and struggle to recruit and retain staff.”
Adding HBC’s belief that the plan considers the ‘infrastructure required’ for this, and ‘protects the environment of the district’ she added: “ An adopted plan will help us to proactively tackle all of these issues within the district.”
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The timeline for adoption of the plan is Spring 2019, but HBC have said this ‘is very much dependent’ on the timing of the inspector’s report.
Depending on his findings he could recommend any modifications ‘which he feels are necessary to make the plan sound.’
The Local Plan covers a wide range of policies, including how a target of 14,049 new homes will be hit by 2035, with just under 4,400 affordable homes among these.
When in place it’s expected to help council planners ‘control or restrict’ development outside of allocated sites, or if they conflict with policy, in the plan.
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The questions put to HBC, by Mr Schofield, will form the basis of the hearings. The first, on Tuesday, January 15 10am, will cover if the council met legal requirements in developing the plan. The sessions take place at the Civic Centre, St Luke’s Avenue, and are open to the public.
Those wishing to speak must have previously commented on the plan, and must have registered with the council.
Campaigners challenging housing sites outlined in the Draft Local Plan welcomed the upcoming series hearings, and hope to see ‘local feeling taken on board’ by the independent inspector.
Among them is Margaret Willis of the Hampsthwaite Action Group (HAG), who said: “HAG has submitted lots of documents and letters to express our concerns about the local plan and reasons why we don’t think it is fit for purpose.
“For example, the traffic infrastructure in the west of Harrogate is already inadequate. Outlying villages are already at breaking point with all of the current housing developments. We just hope the inspectors take local feeling on board in the examination of the plan.”
There are two housings sites allocated in the village, on land off Brookfield Garth, for 36 homes, and land to the north of Meadow Close, for just under 80 homes.
Chris Chelton, Chair of Keep Green Hammerton Green, said that while the group did not want to see the plan fail, changes needed to be made.
He said: “We don’t want to see the Local Plan in its entirety fail as it risks communities, like our own, being open to opportunistic developers - who threaten with costly appeals, as we have seen with inappropriate sites recently.
“We need the Planning Committee to be able to confidently refuse such sites, where the evidence clearly shows this.”
He added: “Our standing argument is that a new settlement isn’t needed at all, because of the scale of building across the district. Even if the planning inspectorate says it supports the Local Plan, we want the new settlement element removed.”
Currently there is a broad area marked in the Green Hammerton and Cattal area for a new settlement in the plan. While this choice will be raised in the upcoming examinations, a specific site will be allocated following development of a New Settlement Development Plan Document.
Consultation will be held on a draft of this ‘in the Spring/Summer of 2019,’ before its own examination in 2020. HBC has said a ‘new settlement has an important role to play, now and in the future in order to meet the amount of new homes and jobs that are needed in the district.’