MENSTON: over 300 new homes approved – but it’s not over yet!

Two significant meetings have recently been held, relating to plans for development on green fields at Bingley Road and Derry Hill, Menston.

1.  Regulatory & Appeals Committee, Thurs 4 April 2013
The Committee (formerly known as the Planning Panel) was held as a result of Menston’s pressure on Bradford Council to reconsider the February 2012 decision to approve construction. Menston felt reconsideration was necessary because of three significant developments 1) the National Planning Policy Framework in April 2012,  2) the revocation of the Regional Spatial Strategy in April 2013,  and, most importantly 3) the significant flooding in Menston over the summer of  2012, particularly in  September when raw sewage ran through Main Street.

Bradford Council, because it had not signed-off the final Certificate despite the passage of 12 months, reluctantly agreed that these matters made it necessary to re-determine the Planning Applications.  The Committee convened at 10am on, Thursday 4 Apri,l at Bradfrod City Hall, with around 22 Menston residents present, inslucing representatives from  Menston Community Association (MCA), Menston Action Group (MAG) and Menston Parish Council (MPC).

The meeting was opened by the Chair, Coun. Warburton, who confirmed that there were three matters to be determined (two Applications relating to the proposed Bingley Road site and one to Derry Hill).  He was followed by the Solicitor for Bradford Council, Tim Driver, who emphasised that Members (the Councillors who were to decide the Applications) must treat matters with an open mind and irrespective of party political affiliations: there was “no place for party politics in dealing with Planning Applications”. [Remember that for later reference!]  The proceedings were to be recorded and a decision had been reached to allow the showing of video recordings by the objectors.

Planning Officer Stewart Currie outlined the detail of the Applications and the S106 proposals, following which there were statements by John Rowley (Traffic) and Tony Poole (Drainage) to the 7 Councillors on the Committee.  Menston’s evidence was presented by solicitor Chris Schofield, who also showed very powerful video evidence of flooding on and from both sites and sewage escapes in the village.  Coun. Dale Smith (the Lord Mayor of Bradford) then asked the Members to defer any decision they might be minded to make until after the evidence was fully examined and considered by the independent Planning Inspector at the forthcoming Public Inquiry (scheduled for 6 days to commence Tuesday 9 April).  In that way, they would make a decision on well-tested evidence.

In questions, it became apparent that Members had not seen evidence relating to the geology of Menston, nor of the flooding and drainage reports.  One of the Members (Coun. Doreen Lees) said she had previously been assured by the Council’s Drainage Officer that a new estate built close to her property in Keighley would not result in flooding, and it had, so she needed reassurance that the risk would be avoided for these Planning Applications. As regards the technical evidence not being available to Members, Coun. Roger L’Amie asked why this was the case and said he would wish to see the evidence as it was clearly controversial. The solicitor, Tim Driver, said it was possible for the Members to defer their decision (as proposed by Coun. Dale Smith) until such time as they had read all the evidence and/or had the decision of the Public Inquiry, but he then went on to say that there was a mass of this evidence, much of it was contested and it was all very technical, and they might not understand it.  At this point (14:30), matters were adjourned for lunch and a site visit.

The Committee did not reassemble until 16:45, at which time (rather surprisingly) there was no further discussion, but the Members simply indicated their vote, whether in favour of the Applications or opposed.  In respect of all three Applications, the Members voted consistently: the four Labour Members voted in favour and the three Conservative Members voted against.  The Chairman announced that this meant the plans had been approved, and moved to close the meeting, to some calls from members of the public that the procedures had not been democratic.

b)   Public Inquiry, Tuesday 9 April 2013
The Public Inquiry had been convened for the purpose of deciding an Appeal by developers Taylor Wimpey, as to whether Bradford Council had failed to determine in a timely manner their Planning Application in respect of the proposed Bingley Road site.  [Once this original Application, Scheme A, had over-run the normal timescale, Taylor Wimpey had submitted an identical Application, known as Scheme B (although, this time, as an Outline Application), and both had in due course been approved at the Planning Panel held on 28 February 2012.  The alleged failure to determine the original Planning Application was, therefore, of little real consequence.]  However, under Rule 6 relating to Public Inquiries, Menston’s representative organisations had been granted permission to present evidence as an affected Third Party, and this rule would allow Menston to present expert evidence and cross-examine the other parties as to the flood risk and drainage concerns of the village.

The parties assembled in Kirklands Community Centre at Menston: the Planning Inspector, the representatives of Bradford Council and those of the Appellant (Taylor Wimpey) plus around 50 Menston residents.  The Inspector announced that, before he opened the Inquiry, he was in receipt of a note from the Appellants indicating that they were proposing to withdraw their Appeal on the basis of discussions they had held with Bradford Council, and he was expecting a formal letter to that effect.  A representative of Taylor Wimpey approached the Inspector and handed him a hand-written letter.  The Inspector read it and then announced that, as the Appeal had been withdrawn, there was no scope for today’s proceedings and all parties were free to leave.  A member of the audience asked whether the Inspector realised that the withdrawal of the Appeal was designed to prevent the expert evidence of flooding and drainage being presented, to which he responded by saying that if there was no Appeal there was no Inquiry, and to consider other evidence was beyond his remit.  He had not opened the Inquiry and, therefore, he was not closing it, but he then wished everyone a good day, packed up his files and left the building.

In light of these events, there was some dismay and mystification on behalf of residents as to whether full Planning Permission had now been granted, and/or whether there were any other measures which could be applied to prevent development from proceeding.  There was considerable anger relating to the denial of opportunity for residents’ organisations to present the expert evidence which had been paid for by public subscription.  Alan Elsegood and Dr. Steve Ellams of MCA and Philip Moore of MAG explained the position as best they could, but made it clear that the Regulatory & Appeals Committee had been clearly warned that certain aspects of the planned developments were unlawful.  In the circumstances, it would now be necessary to consider and implement the various legal options which were available to us. The MCA, MAG and MPC would have further discussions before any detailed announcements would be made, but residents were thanked most warmly for all their ongoing support, and asked to note that there would still be a need for financial contributions to take the necessary legal steps to prevent construction.

It is, of course, profoundly disappointing that none of the Councillors who voted on these matters had seen, or even had a summary of, the comprehensive evidence supporting the risks of repeated flooding, and the impact upon Menston’s drainage system.  Why did the Council’s Planning Officers not give them that evidence and why didn’t the Members  insist on seeing it before they voted? How could they make a decision without the relevant evidence?  How come the composition of the Committee was 4 Labour and 3 Conservative – the same as in February 2012 – and voted on party lines both times?  Why couldn’t they wait until the Public Inquiry had been held only 3 working days later, and then vote in the knowledge that they could rely on that evidence?  To these and other questions, we await the answers after we’ve fully consulted our legal team.  This is unfinished business!