Knaresborough Town Councillors have expressed their ‘disappointment’ and ‘disbelief’ that plans for new houses on a treasured town area have now been approved following an appeal.
The application for five detached homes on a field just off Abbey Road was met with fierce opposition when it was first submitted in April 2014 and was subsequently refused.
But after the developers Camstead Limited appealed the decision, the plans have now been approved following the recommendations by a government planning inspector.
Councillor David Goode (Lib) said: “I’m very disappointed and I still think it’s the wrong decision, there were very strong and solid reasons that the planning inspector could have used to refuse the development.
“Fundamentally the planning inspector is wrong and I don’t think she’s given significant weight to the problems we have raised.”
In light of the application a residents group was set up with Coun Goode’s support to campaign against the development.
They outlined issues including the loss or green space, impacts on wildlife, the popular use of the area for leisure, and increased traffic.
But the largest cause of debate was the close proximity of the site to the popular tourist destination within the conservation area, St Robert’s cave.
Coun Goode said: “It’s a very green area of conservation, originally this cave would have been set amongst greenery and wildlife in a natural environment.
“The planning inspectors view is that there are caravans other side of the river, we already have houses on Abbey Road and is suggesting five other houses isn’t going to fundamentally change the nature of it. I totally disagree with that.
“Literally thousands of people use the field - local residents, cyclists, runners, I use it to go running, and then visitors to the town - it’s a nice place for people who come to the town to visit. Every loss of green space detracts from the pleasant experience of walking down that road.”
Arguments in favour of the development pointed towards the need for more housing, but Mr Goode argued this development would do little to address that.
He said: ”These houses are five four-bedroom houses which will be sold at the top end of the market.
“They do nothing to address the housing need for Harrogate and Knaresborough, we need one two and three bedroom houses that people can afford.”
But Dave Allenby, Head of Planning and Development at Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) also expressed disappointment over the planning inspector’s views.
He said: “We are aware that residents and local representatives have campaigned strongly against the application. HBC refused the application on grounds that the proposed development would harm the setting and significance of the Knaresborough Conservation Area and the visual amenity of the local area.
“Following an appeal hearing held on February 2, the appeal inspector acknowledged that development of the site would ‘inevitably change’ its character, but not to the extent that the character and appearance of the conservation area would be unacceptably harmed.
“Whilst the council is understandably disappointed at the outcome of the decision, it must respect the inspector’s decision.”
But while the planning process initially saw a victory for those opposed to the plans, Mr Goode said he was not convinced the development would not go ahead.
He said: “There was always a suspicion in the back of my mind that we would end up in the situation we have ended up at.
“The more contentious [plans] they turn down go to appeal these days because developers know that by going to appeal they have a better chance of winning than they have in the past.
“It shows how difficult it is to reflect local opinion and successfully defend against this kind of application.
“My thoughts reflect the feelings of others - just sheer disbelief that this application has been allowed to go through.”