Homes England has expressed frustration at Harrogate councillors for stalling its bid to build 200 homes at the former Police Training Centre.
The government housing agency has permission to build 161 homes on the site on Yew Tree Lane but wants to increase this by 23% to 200 homes by building on a sports pitch.
Harrogate Borough Council’s planning committee voted in June against a recommendation to approve the application.
Instead it deferred the scheme pending publication of the West of Harrogate Parameters Plan, which will assess transport and infrastructure needs associated with wider plans to build up to 4,000 homes on the western side of Harrogate.
The plan was expected last year but has been delayed.
In an email dated June 18 to Harrogate Borough Council, which the Stray Ferret obtained through a freedom of information request, Homes England described the planning committee’s decision as “extremely disappointing”.
It said it was made due to councillors’ “misconceptions” about the role of Homes England.
The email claims these misconceptions were because council officers did not properly brief the councillors who voted on the scheme about what the housing agency does.
It also warned it was considering taking legal action against the council over the decision.
Councillors influenced by ‘misconceptions’
In the email to the council, Homes England stressed its importance in buying stalled sites that have been “subject to market failure” and helping the council meet government housing targets.
The email said Homes England had approached the council about briefing councillors themselves on the role of the housing agency but said this offer was rejected. It says this led to “misconceptions” that influenced councillors’ decision-making.
“Concerns in respect of the Agency’s role in ‘accelerating housing delivery’ are particularly frustrating and in our view could have been satisfactorily addressed at an early stage of the process via stakeholder consultation or a briefing to members from Homes England.
“This approach was suggested to HBC at various stages, but we were advised against direct engagement with members and our understanding was that officers would manage this process on our behalf. It is therefore frustrating that HBC have not addressed these fundamental questions in their role of briefing members on the application.”
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Homes England also disputed that the Police Training Centre site should form part of the parameters plan.
“Homes England does not consider any policy basis exists to delay determination of the application until the completion of the WHPP. The WHPP does not form part of the development plan, and has not been consulted upon and is not sufficiently advanced to form a material consideration to any application at this time.
“The Police Training Centre is an allocated site with an extant consent and we were surprised to be in a position whereby the application has been deferred pending the approval of the WHPP, which is likely to take a number of months to complete.
“We’d be grateful if HBC can provide a response setting out their proposed strategy for successful navigating this application through planning committee as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are seeking legal advice regarding our planning strategy, including the merits of an Appeal against Non-Determination.”
What happens next?
The email to HBC says Homes England has appointed Countryside Properties Ltd to build the homes pending a successful planning application.
A Homes England spokesperson told the Stray Ferret:
“Homes England continues to engage with Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and local resident groups regarding its outline planning application at the Police Training Centre, which is part of the borough council’s adopted Local Plan.”
A Harlow & Pannal Ash Residents’ Association (HAPARA) spokesperson said the council’s planning committee made the correct decision in deferring the application, pending the publication of the parameters plan.
“Harrogate Borough Council has confirmed during engagement sessions that the geographical extent of the West of Harrogate Parameters Plan does include this site.
“Homes England is taking a deliberately narrow view of the planning framework when it is clear that the public interest is best served by the wider implications for the western arc area being considered, through the West of Harrogate Parameters Plan.”
A Harrogate Borough Council spokesperson said:
“The delivery of new homes and communities is a key corporate priority for us, and we work very closely with Homes England, and other partners, to deliver our housing delivery action plan.
“Councillors receive regular training sessions on all aspects of our housing delivery and strategic sites work to ensure we can all support this plan.”