Amanda Greaves Ilkley Gazette.
MASIVE increases in house building figures for Ilkley and its neighbouring communities are to come under the scrutiny of a Government planning inspector in what is believed to be an unprecedented move.
Wharfedale-based campaigners are hopeful hundreds of additional new homes written into the yet-to-be-approved Local Development Plan Core Strategy could be dropped as the result of a fresh set of hearings in May.
The surprise announcement comes a year on from hearings about Bradford Council’s development strategy for the district.
Planning inspector Stephen Pratt, who examined the initial Core Strategy document last May, has called further hearings on May 17 to 20 to examine new issues not discussed in detail the first time around.
Dr Steve Ellams, of campaign group Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development (WARD), said: “I couldn’t believe it when it came out.
“To me, it’s unheard of to have an inspector call it back.”
A debate last year between Bradford Council planners and legal representatives of a consortium of developers saw the local authority agree to revise its 15-year housing strategy figures for Ilkley, Burley-in-Wharfedale and Menston.
Subsequent modifications saw Ilkley’s housing allocation increase from 800 to 1,000, Burley’s from 200 to 700 and Menston from 400 to 600. Burley and Menston were also re-designated as Local Growth Centres – something organisations, including WARD, have since argued are not feasible.
WARD has continued to send evidence to the inspector opposing the new figures, citing strain on the local infrastructure, including Victorian sewers currently struggling to cope with surface water during heavy rain, as demonstrated during the Boxing Day floods.
“You can’t force a pint into a half-pint pot,” added Dr Ellams.
He believes the inspector now has concerns about the housing increases, resulting in the unusual move of holding further hearings.
Dr Ellams added: “We think it probably is to do with what we’ve put forward.
“We’re very hopeful he’s going to see through some of the developers’ statements. This isn’t a development centre – people aren’t going to move here from the centre of Bradford to go back into Bradford for work.”
However, he also warned developers may take the opportunity to defend the current figures or even press for greater scope to build yet more homes.
Meanwhile, Ilkley ward councillor, Martin Smith (Con, Ilkley), attacked Bradford Council regarding its handling of the “flawed” Core Strategy.
He said: “The figure of 42,000 homes was based on 4,200 new jobs, now downgraded to 3,600 in the latest deposit to the inspector.
“If I was responsible for the Core Strategy, I would be looking at any options to reduce these 42,000 new homes and to places that need the homes, recognising the basis upon which it was calculated was flawed.”
He went on to call for affordable homes on brownfield sites instead of new development in the greenbelt.
“Affordable homes are needed where work is, and the developers should not reduce the affordable numbers on the back of over-priced greenbelt land,” Cllr Smith added.
“Use the brownfield Government grants before they are taken up by other authorities. Already councils are buying up older houses, upgrading them and selling them on at a profit, so why is Bradford doing nothing?”