Ponderosa ecovillage plan is rejected

Issue 507

A £35m development on green belt land in Heckmondwike was rejected by councillors yesterday (Thursday).
The plan for a 145unit ecofriendly retirement community off Station Lane, submitted by Ponderosa owner and developer Howard Cook, was thrown out by Kirklees Council’s planning and highways committee in a controversial vote.
Chairman Coun Christine Smith had the final say when a motion to approve, which she voted against, was tied at five all.
The Ponderosa vote was taken after Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) decided to abstain, feeling his questions had not been answered.
His queries over the positioning of an access bridge and cycle route were cut off by fellow Tory Coun Smith so the vote could be called.
Earlier, there was a lively and extensive debate for nearly two hours over whether the retirement village plan was suitable for green belt land.
Approval depended on whether the Ponderosa owner Howard Cook could prove there were special reasons for building on green belt. They put forward five reasons:
• The retirement village is vital to allowing Ponderosa to survive financially;
• Regeneration opportunities are linked to the nearby ABLE2 project;
• It allows improvements to the fish ponds at the Dewsbury Domes scheme;
• It creates apprenticeships for young people through a Prince’s Trust link;
• It develops a wetland habitat in line with Leeds City Region aims.
Opponents, including Norristhrope resident Robert Finnigan, claimed none of those would outweigh the harm done through losing green belt.
He added: “The land is green belt in the current urban development plan and is still listed as green belt in the proposed local development framework.” Coun Viv Kendrick (Lab), who stood down from the planning committee to speak from the public benches, also opposed the scheme.
She said: “There are six care homes in the Heckmondwike ward already and another one is currently being built.
“There are a further 14 in Liversedge, Cleckheaton and Mirfield. Not all are full and some are coming from outside Kirklees to take up places.”
Others, including ABLE2 apprentice Troy Emmanuel, spoke in favour with Coun Mahmood Akhtar making an early attempt for an approval vote.
This was rejected by Coun Smith, with Coun Bolt and Coun Andrew Pinnock (Lib Dem) taking the chance to debate further.
Coun Pinnock said: “The site is on the edge of the green belt and that is even more dangerous. We don’t want to nibble as it sets a precedent.
“I also don’t think any of the special circumstances are special enough. ABLE2 has been up and running for two to three years now.
“The Spen Valley area committee has given them £50,000 to fund various aspects of it and I’m sure that’ll continue.
“I also think financial considerations should play no part in the planning process. I’m therefore minded to go for refusal.”
Coun Bolt then began his forensic examination, but was cut off by chairman Coun Smith to allow the vote to take place.
Mr Cook declined to comment.

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