Garden Suburb developers claim ‘planning applications are ready’

Housebuilders are ready to submit planning applications for controversial Garden Suburb sites “in a week’s time” – although only if it was felt appropriate, hearings into Calderdale’s draft Local Plan were told.

By John Greenwood, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Friday, 18th June 2021, 5:06 pm
Updated Friday, 18th June 2021, 5:08 pm
Thornhills Lane, looking out over Brighouse
Thornhills Lane, looking out over Brighouse

Thousands of homes could be built on the sites at Woodhouse and Thornhills, near Brighouse, over the 15 year life of the plan into the 2030s – if Planning Inspector Katie Child, appointed by the Government, finds the Local Plan is sound and subsequent planning applications were successful.

The third phase of hearings, held virtually, heard homebuilders claiming they were ready to submit planning applications for the first phases of both sites at very short notice, claims on which campaigners and representatives of other homebuilders cast doubt.

And Ms Child, closing a session examining the sites, said based on two days’ of discussions there was a lot of work to do.

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Accepting progress had been made, she said it was still the case that Masterplanning was not complete – Masterplanning covers detail on subjects ranging from layout, phasing and design standards to ensuring development contributes positively to local character, encompassing issues such as street networks, public spaces, sustainable travel and energy efficiency.

“A Masterplan is a prerequisite for those applications in order to have a very clear framework.

“That piece of work is absolutely critical and it has yet to be done,” she said.

It raised questions in her mind about the feasibility of homes being delivered around 2023-24.

“That I do have concerns on.

“I will reflect on that and get back to the council on my thoughts in writing within a week or two,” said Ms Child.

Jon Dunbavin, of ID Planning, representing Thornhill Estate and other landowners, had said progress was significant and builders, Redrow and Bellway, were in place for phase one of the contracts at the two sites.

“We could, if we thought it appropriate, submit a planning application in a week’s time – but we don’t think it is appropriate.

“We are very good to go, if we could,” he said.

Mr Dunbavin said ID Planning anticipated a planning application could be submitted before the end of the year, if the Local Plan was approved.

Ms Child had asked if, with first phase homes expected to be completed during 2023-24, just a year after the plan may have been adopted, this was a realistic lead-in period given the inquiry had already heard that at Woodhouse a landowner had not agreed to sell and at Thornhills there effectively two consortiums of landowners, not joined together, with two Masterplans existing for the site.

For Calderdale Council, planning officer John Houston said phase one of Woodhouse did not depend on that land for access.

Planning lead Richard Seaman said there were discussions with both Masterplanners at Thornhills.

“A lot of background work is being done, nobody is starting from zero and that can be taken forward pretty quickly,” he said – adding nothing had been submitted yet because it was too early in the process.

But resident Jason Carlton said timescales could not be relied on without the evidence about issues – like funding, land ownership and viability – behind it, and these were lacking.

At an early Local Plan working party in 2016 it had been said any application received for a site before the plan was approved would be refused.

“It’s moving the goalposts – councillors may want to have a debate about this,” he said.

Nick Pleasant of NJL Consulting, for Clifton Village Neighbourhood Forum, said there was still no evidence suitable access could be gained for Woodhouse phases one and two.

“Access by a fairly narrow residential street seems ambitious to say the least. Highways are very relevant when they are needed for Garden Suburbs,” he said.

Julie Bullen of Woodhouse Residents Association said ownership of some land at Woodhouse was an issue and probate title on another piece of land had not yet been proved.

Access onto Woodhouse Lane was restricted, there was no assessment to confirm the adequacy of the highway network, and nor was there indication of when a school would be built in time for the early stages – all critical elements that needed to be considered, she said.

Stuart Natkus, of Barton Willmore, for a consortium of homebuilders, doubted two schemes could be enacted so quickly given issues which remained to be sorted out – if it did, it would be mould-breaking.

Mr Dunbavin said the timing of submitting applications would be aligned to the end of hearings into the Local Plan.