Plans process ‘not unique’

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One of Harrogate’s senior planning figures has responded to a withering attack by Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke over a controversial housing development application.

Mr Shelbrooke criticised Harrogate Borough Council during question time in the House of Commons earlier this month over a 210-home development at Stockeld, on the border of Wetherby.

The development in question was initially knocked back by councillors in August, primarily due to the lack of nearby secondary education.

However, councillors were informed by council’s legal officer that they would have to take the vote again, after receiving additional information in an exempt session. The application was approved at the second meeting.

During his address in parliament, Mr Shelbrooke called the re-vote a “sham situation”.

“A panel of elected councillors refused a planning application by 11 votes to one for an inappropriate development on the border of Wetherby in my constituency, only for a locum legal adviser, Noel Scanlon, to tell councillors they had reached the wrong decision, forcing them to vote again, but not before a private meeting away from the public gaze had been held,” he said in his address to Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom. The original result was then overturned by nine-nil in favour of the application.

“I fear that we are heading towards a situation in which if mandarins do not get their own way, they simply call for further votes to overturn the decision they did not like,” he added.

Mr Shelbrooke later announced that he had written to the Secretary of State in the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government, calling for the decision to be ‘called-in’ and scrutinised by the office. Mr Shelbrooke also indicated he would pursue the matter during an adjournment debate.

One of the leading figures in the council’s planning process, cabinet member for planning Rebecca Burnett, said she could understand Mr Shelbrooke’s concerns, but rejected any notion that the decision was un-democratic.

“I can understand why he’s doing it, it’s clearly a controversial application in his area,” Coun Burnett (Con, Harrogate St Georges) said.

“(But) what we still have is a democratic decision by members of council.”

Coun Burnett said Harrogate wasn’t “unique” among councils for being able to bring an application back to receive further information, but added that she didn’t see the process happening often.

“Sometimes in these situations (councillors) do change their mind,” Coun Burnett said of the revote following the exempt briefing session, adding that ultimately the application was “consistent with planning policy”.