AN angry councillor has slammed Kirklees Council’s planning committee after it backed a controversial Holmfirth housing development against professional advice.
Clr Nigel Patrick was outraged after the committee said that it was “mindful to approve” an application despite two independent structural engineers saying they were unsure if the development, above a steep bank, would be safe.
The application by Huddersfield-based Fortis Homes, to build two houses at the site of the former Littlewood’s garage off Station Road, Holmfirth, had already been deferred by the committee twice – the last time at the request of Clr Donald Firth, due to insufficient evidence that the supporting wall would be strong enough.
The wall, needed to shore up a very steep bank below the site on Summervale, had also been strongly objected to by two residents who said its construction would lead to the new houses towering more than 20 metres above their properties.
Despite the engineers’ doubts the wall would be able to cope and the strong objections from residents and Holme Valley councillors, the Kirklees councillors on the committee have now deferred the decision to appeal with their recommendation that the houses above should be approved.
Clr Patrick said he was astounded the committee backed the plan: “It’s beyond belief what these planning officers and committees will approve these days,” he said. “What they’ve done, in effect, is support the building of two houses in the mid air.
“The officers will now speak to the applicant and they will agree a retaining wall structure behind closed doors. This will never be put before the public again. I really worry that we will be left with something that’s not going to work. It’s been taken out of the hands of democracy. If they don’t get this right the houses could end up slipping down to Summervale. They’ve approved the houses without any knowledge of what the wall is going to look like.”
Clr Patrick added: “When I joined this council six years ago I thought it was bad but I think it’s got even worse.”
Summervale resident Nick Charlton, who had been fighting the plan, said: “What I was really cross about was that in my opinion the only decision they should and could have made was to refuse. There are still doubts on whether the bank can take the structure and both the Leeds City Council engineer brought in by Kirklees and my engineer said further investigation was needed.
“The whole thing was very underhand. We were given less than a week’s notice it was going back to committee. I think they knew I was going to be out of the country. And the two Holme Valley councillors (Clr Firth and Clr Ken Sims) of the previous planning committee are no longer members.”
But Mr Charlton aimed his greatest criticism at the council’s planning officers: “I think the committee was misled,” he said, “they weren’t given the full information. I have said this all along, there’s something peculiar going on in the planning office. I have no idea why they are so determined to force this one through?”
The appeal will now be heard by the Government’s planning inspectorate although Mr Charlton said he suspected Fortis Homes might withdraw and submit a new application to try to side-step the controversy.
Chairman of Huddersfield Planning Sub-Committee, Clr Linda Wilkinson, was not available for comment.