Action Group “gravely concerned” with new settlement re-assessment process and lack of transparency over potential financial gains from development at Green Hammerton.
Leaders of the Keep the Hammertons Green Action Group (KTHG) have said they are “gravely concerned” about the fairness and independence of the Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) process under which the sites for a potential new town are being re-assessed. It follows the intervention by the government inspector considering the plan who has asked that all the potential sites be re-considered for their suitability.
KTHG Action Group notes that the would-be developers of one of the possible sites – Flaxby Park – have publicly voiced their concerns about the impartiality of the re-assessment of the sites. They have written to HBC Chief Executive, Wallace Sampson, requesting that he appoints an independent third party, with no connection to the council, to perform the review which KTHG supports.
Chair of the KTHG Action Group, Chris Eaton, said:
HBC has overstated the amount of new houses needed in our district and there are many ways in which the housing requirement can be met. But if a new settlement is needed, we have always said that Flaxby is the obvious location and Green Hammerton is demonstrably not sustainable.
At the public hearings into the HBC Plan, council representatives said that they would not change their minds about the selection of Green Hammerton as the preferred location for a major settlement.
Mr Eaton continued:
It is outrageous that we have reached a point where the government inspector has required the Council to re-consider the possible locations and yet that re-assessment is being done by the same team that wrongly suggested Green Hammerton in the first place and who are on record as saying they won’t change their minds.
And all the while, the Council continues to spend taxpayers’ money on a supplementary Development Plan Document promoting the Green Hammerton area for major development even though the Inspector has called for re-assessment. We are gravely concerned that this is not a fair or objective process.
Furthermore, the Action Group has questioned the transparency of the relevant local authorities’ financial position with regard to the new settlement.
KTHG Action Group believes that North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) stands to gain tens of millions of pounds if certain land at Green Hammerton in the area earmarked for a new settlement is developed. NYCC used to own the land and a condition of its sale a number of years ago was that if it was sold-on for development, NYCC would be entitled to receive a substantial proportion of the increase in the value of the land.
Mr Eaton said:
It adds to the lack of objectivity and transparency. 14 HBC elected councillors are also elected members of NYCC which has a substantial financial stake in the choice of Green Hammerton. If this was any other form of business you would expect that to have been declared as an interest. Why has this significant matter never been openly addresses by either HBC or NYCC?
We call on HBC to do the decent thing by recognising there must be a lack of objectivity and fairness if its own team re-assesses its own work. It must appoint a third party to re-consider the sites.
KTHG Action Group notes that in major public consultations the choice of Green Hammerton has been objected to by nearly two thousand residents from across the district and, at the same time, no substantive and soundly-based justification for the choice of Green Hammerton has been provided.
Flaxby park Developers have also called for the review to be independent.
At that time Councillor Rebecca Burnett commented.
Councillor Rebecca Burnett, cabinet member for planning, said:
The Inspector has asked us to undertake further sustainability appraisal work to assess broad locations around each of the proposed potential new settlement sites.
We’ve confirmed in writing to Flaxby Park that we will approach this work with an open mind and will respond to the outcome should it indicate a different approach.
We are not intending to use consultants to undertake the work but we do have a legal team in place who will be providing legal oversight of the process.