Housing Investigation: land the size of 700 football pitches lost to new housing
Last updated Nov 27, 2020

The Stray Ferret has calculated that at least 500 hectares of land will be built on in the Harrogate district by 2035, that’s the equivalent of more than 700 football pitches. 

Whilst some of this is on brownfield land, vast swathes of green fields have been lost to housing developers in recent years. And because Harrogate had no Local Plan, the council had little control over which fields would be built on.

Those living in Harrogate are aware of the mental and physical benefits that the Stray provides – but green spaces in Harrogate’s outlying villages are being developed at an unprecedented pace and will continue to be for the next 14 years. 

Loss of green land

Many of the district’s significant developments – such as Linden Homes 600-home Manse Farm development in Knaresborough and the proposed 1,000 home at Windmill Farm in Beckwithshaw  will mean the loss of green fields that are valued by local people. 

Rebecca Southworth lives in a cottage on Lady Lane in Pannal Ash. She lives next to site H51 in the Local Plan, where there are two separate proposals to build over 750 houses on green fields around Lady Lane and Whinney Lane. One is from Banks Group that proposes 270 homes and another from Gladman to build a further 480 homes.

Rebecca Southworth

With 130 homes currently being built by Stonebridge Homes on Whinney Lane, the various developments will drastically change the face of what was once one of Harrogate’s greenest corners.

Whilst it’s often argued that people have little say in what gets developed, Rebecca said that it’s the animals who live in nature who are even more ignored.

She said:

“Who’s standing up for the wildlife here?”

Rebecca has lived in the property 10 years and says the wildlife around is “immense”. She said she sees barn owls, tawny owls, curlews, different tits and other birds, badgers and deer in the area, but now fears their habitat will be lost.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has also objected to the Banks Group development, saying in its current form the housing will impact on biodiversity.

Rebecca added:

“I can’t believe it’s going ahead. So many walkers have enjoyed it here, especially during lockdown. “.

To accompany the planning application, an ecology report was produced which recognises that the loss of 375m of hedgerow will have a negative impact on local wildlife, including 17 species of bird. It suggests removing the hedgerows outside of the bird’s breeding season and installing boxes for the birds and owls.

Rebecca said she is not sure if she’ll be able to face seeing the fields built upon, and is considering moving.

“I’ve been so lucky to live here and it’s been such a haven. It’s devastating. Once the green land is gone, it’s gone. I can’t stay here to see these fields get ripped up right in front of me. It’s such a shame, it’s all going to go.”

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A snapshot of development in Harrogate. Credit – HAPARA

The rural village of Burton Leonard 

Burton Leonard, a picturesque village south of Ripon faces three separate housing developments. 

The feeling from residents is the housing will mean Burton Leonard loses its village feel. 

The Campaign to Protect Rural England was one objector to a 31-home scheme on Scarah Lane. It wrote to Harrogate Borough Council to say:  

“The proposed development would cause significant harm to the form of the village and landscape character by adversely impacting on the character of the landscape and identity of the village by extending into the open countryside.”  

While the plans were initially refused by HBC, developer Loxley Homes was able to get the decision overturned at the Court of Appeal because the council couldn’t demonstrate a future supply of affordable housing. 

These developments are examples of perhaps the inevitable tension between the need to house people and the unpopular loss of land.

The council had been asked to rubber-stamp thousands of homes with only a finite amount of space in the district where they could be built. Large green fields will always be arable land to developers, because they can build larger and potentially more expensive homes on them, as the last few years in Harrogate has proved.

Now government’s looming planning reforms could potentially tear up the rule book again and make it easier to build on brownfield land or to convert unused office space into housing. This could ease the pressure for future homes to be built on green fields.

Yet as part of the same reforms, the government also wants to make planning easier for developers on small sites within or on the edge of villages, a situation which has already caused so much resistance in this district.

The climate crisis 

Beyond the loss of green land, many housebuilders in the Harrogate district have done the statutory minimum for the environment in construction, with few going beyond to future proof homes for the next generation. 

Take Persimmon Homes, which is currently building its King Edwin Park development on Pennypot Lane 

The 600 homes make it one of the largest developments to gain planning permission while Harrogate had no Local Plan. 

Hundreds of pages of documents were submitted to HBC in 2014, with very few references to renewable energy or reducing carbon emissions. 

In the time that HBC drew up its Local Plan, the climate crisis has rocketed up the political agenda . 

HBC has decided against declaring a climate emergency and instead opted to introduce a “carbon reduction strategy”.  

The document sets out how the council aims to achieve a net-zero carbon economy by 2038. This means that all greenhouse gas production will be offset by taking emissions out of the atmosphere.  

It’s estimated that energy use in our homes contributes to 14% of the UK’s total carbon emissions and, locally, an extra 16,000 homes will be a factor in whether HBC will achieve its carbon goal. 

But no house that has been built in a major housing development in Harrogate comes close to meeting the UK Green Building Council’s definition of “net-zero carbon” — and due to current government building regulations and HBC’s own Local Plan, it is unlikely any will be built in the near future. 

The UK Green Building Council says a net-zero carbon building is highly energy-efficient and powered from renewable energy sources such as solar panels or air source heat pumps that absorb heat from the outside air to heat a home and hot water. 

Not only does this mean that the homes are helping the environment, but for residents, energy bills are almost non-existent. 

Pressure group Zero Carbon Harrogate recently published a roadmap to 2030 outlining, among other things, how housebuilding needs to be improved in the district. It proposes all homes are built to innovative Passivhaus standards and are electrically heated with air or ground-source heat pumps. 

The group says these improvements are vital as the clock is ticking on a deepening climate crisis and Harrogate, like the rest of the world, will endure freak weather events more regularly. 

HBC policy 

Chapter seven of HBCs Local Plan says the council will “promote” zero-carbon development and “encourage” all developments to meet the “highest technically feasible and financially viable” environmental standards during construction, and after residents move in. 

However, these guiding words have not reassured groups such as Zero Carbon Harrogate or Sustainably Harrogate that the green aspirations of the Local Plan have any real teeth. 

Now that HBC has its Local Plan, could the council be doing more to pioneer greener house building in the district? 

According to one local planning expert the Stray Ferret talked to who didn’t want to be named, there was significantly more HBC could have included in the Local Plan that was adopted earlier this year 

He said the authority could have asked for properties to include renewable energy such as solar, for all homes to have secure cycle storage, use of low carbon building materials and for developers to use local suppliers to reduce transport emissions. 

Bolder measures 

Speaking to the Stray Ferret earlier this year, Conservative councillor Paul Haslam suggested if Harrogate Borough Council was more forceful with developers to say they must include renewable energy sources in their developments, they would simply build homes in other places, such as Leeds. 

 Yet other councils have introduced bolder planning measures into their local plans to try and lead greener housebuilding in their areas. 

All the way back in 2010, Exeter adopted a sustainability document in its planning process that made renewable energy and zero-carbon housing one of its key housing objectives.  

In 2021 it will update the scope of the document to ensure that other technologies, such as solar heating, small scale wind turbines, ground source heat pumps and biomass heating, are part of all new housing developments. 

Similarly, Bristol’s Local Plan says in major developments, 80% of homes will be expected to have Passivhaus design. 


A rare glimpse into the type of home that could be built is on Bogs Lane in Bilton. 

Tim Larner and his wife Marilyn built their dream home 2018, and they believe it is one of only two homes in Harrogate built to a Passivhaus standard. 

Developed in Germany in the 1990s, Passivhaus is seen as a game changer for zero-carbon housing. It’s an innovative design code that prioritises insulation so that a home doesn’t need any heating or cooling at all, resulting in minimal energy bills. 

The Larners’ home has other eco benefits and was built in a factory and assembled on site, bypassing the polluting construction process entirely. 

Harrogate Borough Council granted planning permission for the home in 2017 — but Mr Larner told the Stray Ferret that getting the green light to build their cutting-edge home was a “dispiriting” experience.  

Whether or not future applications have better green credentials remains to be seen. However, those homes under construction and completed already are still built using traditional methods with inefficient designs. 

By the end of the Local Plan period in 2035, homeowners will increasingly be demanding zero-carbon homes which, at the moment, the market in Harrogate just isn’t providing. 

This is the final investigation in our week-long housing series. We have asked representatives of every political party for a response which we will publish tomorrow.