£35m Green Belt 'eco village' plan rejected

Issue 473

A proposed £35m development on green belt land in Heckmondwike was thrown out by councillors yesterday (Thursday).
The plan, earmarked for land next to Howard Cook’s Ponderosa attraction off Smithies Lane, included a retirement village and ecohomes spread over an eighthectare site.
It was savaged at Kirklees Council’s Heavy Woollen planning subcommittee meeting in Dewsbury – despite being listed for approval by officers.
Subcommittee member Coun Steve Hall (Lab, Heckmondwike) admitted he had decided against approval beforehand.
He was banned from voting by chairman Coun Paul Kane and went to speak out in opposition from the public seats.
“I’m totally against it,” Coun Hall said. “I fear we’d be setting a precedent where developers can build on green belt sites all over the place.”
Coun Andrew Pinnock (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton) said the scheme went against the new Local Development Framework (LDF).
The LDF states green belt should be protected and Coun Pinnock added: “We’d be going against what we professed if we voted in favour.”
Coun Gwen Lowe (Lab, Batley West), meanwhile, expressed concern that the site was too far away from other services.
She said: “It’s in a remote location. There aren’t any shops nearby. If an older person wanted to go out for a paper they’d be three hours.”
A council planning report stated the decision to recommend approval was “finely balanced” but swayed in favour by job creation benefits.
Ponderosa chief Howard Cook MBE hoped the scheme would lead to about 150 construction jobs and 120 fulltime posts when finished.
He also wanted to create 200 apprenticeships with help from the Prince’s Trust to help unemployed young people into work.
Adam Cook, for Ponderosa, told the meeting: “There’s still a long way to go for this area to come out of the recession.
“This project would do a lot of good for an area that’s been in decline, suffers from high youth unemployment and is deprived.”
Campaigners, including Lisa Drake, of Norristhorpe, felt such a scheme was more suited to brownfield land somewhere else.
She also questioned the motives and said: “A retirement village got planning permission on the Mirfield25 site a few years ago.
“The land tripled in value and was put up for sale. Applying to build on green belt should not be a way to further the business interests of a developer.”

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