A GOVERNMENT planning inspector has been scathing of Kirklees Council over its Local Plan strategy that could see vast swathes of the district concreted over for homes and industry.
Inspector Katie Child has written to the council following two weeks of public hearings in Huddersfield, expressing a wide range of concerns over plans to build 33,000 new homes inside the next 15 years.
The council’s proposals which include developing large areas of protected Green Belt land were particularly criticised.
Ms Child’s handling of the hearings drew praise from local protest groups Save Mirfield and the Chidswell Action Group.
However work looks certain to begin on one key element – houses which will kick-start the building of 2,300 homes on land adjoining Thornhill Lees, Ravensthorpe and Mirfield, eventually raising to 4,000 properties. Work on two projects in Thornhill Lees could start in the coming months.
The so-called Dewsbury Riverside land is already owned by Kirklees and developers Miller Homes and the council said: “It is reasonable for the development to commence in 2018 and for this to ramp up following the adoption of the Local Plan.”
Ms Child raised a number of concerns about the overall strategy and left Kirklees bosses in no doubt that she is not certain to approve it.
She criticised the lack of a masterplan drawing the different elements together, leaving questions about the logic of some areas being developed and others not.
She said: “I have strong concerns at this stage about the deliverability of the phasing rates” (for housing build) adding that lead-in times “were optimistic” and didn’t appear to take into account a wide number of factors.
Ms Child raised significant doubts about the Green Belt element of the Local Plan and invited the council to reconsider its position.
“I would question whether the provision of 264 hectares of employment land over the Plan period is justified, and whether exceptional circumstances for 114 hectares of Green Belt release have been demonstrated. The issue also raises concerns regarding the coherence of the Council’s employment and housing strategy,” she concluded.
The inspector said she would allow the Stage 3 and 4 hearings to take place “despite having significant concerns at this stage about housing delivery” but has demanded answers on a number of points from Kirklees by November 17.
“I would emphasise that this is not a guarantee that the Plan will ultimately be found sound, either in respect of the issues discussed above or other matters,” she concluded.
Mark Eastwood of the Chidswell Action Group, fighting to preserve the green belt buffer between Wakefield, said that while they were reassured by the Planning Inspector’s tough stance, they were disappointed she was taking the hearings forward.
“It’s clear there are serious issues with the plan,” he said, adding that Kirklees’s timescales were “pie in the sky”.
“We’re not happy with the idea of a reduction in numbers - we still want to get this thrown out.”
Cheryl Tyler, who chairs Save Mirfield, was quickly into action when Kirklees planning chief Richard Hollinson described Mirfield “as a suburb of Dewsbury”, a statement he quickly retracted.
The Dewsbury Riverside project would include 570 homes actually within Mirfield.
Mrs Tyler praised the inspector’s handling of the initial hearings but thought Kirklees had created its own problems by not working with local communities.
She said: “We thought the ‘consultation’ over the Local Plan was very poor. It’s a pity we were not ‘critical buddies’ to the council because we could have helped produce a Local Plan that would have suited everyone’s needs far better.”
Coun Peter McBride, who has the economy and infrastructure brief, described the feedback as “entirely normal” and said “we are pleased she has given us the green light to prepare for the later stages”.
Coun McBride said councillors had been “impressed by the level of representations from individuals and groups who have attended, and feel that the complex and probing questions and discussions our proposals have been subject to, should reassure all concerned of the robustness of the Inspector’s examination.”