Garden Street: development plans thrown out

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Over 300 people travelled to the King's Centre in Halifax on a rainy Monday evening and listened for 3 hours while the Garden Street development was debated. The Planning Committee threw out the plans by a vote of five to two.

Above: part of the crowded hall

The King's Centre was hired by the council to accommodate the crowds they knew would be attending. But every seat was taken with dozens having to stand.

The planning officers spoke first outlining the reasons they supported the application. They were then questioned by the elected councillors on the committee. This was followed by the objectors giving their reasons. Anthony Rae spoke eloquently on behalf of the Garden Street Action Group, Nader Fekri spoke on behalf of the local elected Calderdale councillors and Susan Press spoke as mayor of Hebden Royd Town Council.

In spite of the outcome, there was widespread concern about how closely the planning officers worked with the developers, raising important questions concerning their impartiality. Nader Fekri captured this concern when he said to the Planning Committee, “It’s not the officers’ job to act as the developer’s cheerleader.”

There was also serious concern, and again this point was made by Cllr Fekri, that Calderdale, who own the site, have never consulted with the public about what should be done with the Garden Street area. The public has never been asked what they think should be in this corner of Hebden Bridge.

Cllr Susan Press told the Planning Committee that not only had Hebden Royd Town Council voted against the development but they had been unanimous in their opposition.

The planning officers outlined what they thought were the main issues - disruption to the town, over-development and the need for car parking. They showed slides on screen which most people could not see, and which were barely legible to those who could, mumbling regularly that this is "not particularly clear" followed by "next slide please".

The planning engineer pointed out that he thought the development was sustainable because residents were going to be provided with a Metro Card and extra cycle lockers would be made available.

Cllr Peter Coles, after much questioning of the officers, finally persuaded them to concede that Commercial Street would be narrower with the loss of the grass verge.

Officers were asked why there would not be the normal 20% social housing. Their reply was that the development was providing some extra parking spaces so the developers should be let off this.

Cllr Pearson pointed out that the stacker would need a major service every 6 months which would involve closure for five days.

Anthony Rae made an excellent presentation on behalf of the objectors, once again stressing the lack of consultation with the public. He went on to show serious errors and omissions in the planning officers' reports. The reason given for this development was parking. Yet there had been no independent investigation of parking and parking needs in the town.

Anthony Rae told the committee that the stone cladding was an 0.8 cm stone veneer, which would most likely be imported from Texas. No sample had been provided by the developers. "What Hebden Bridge needs," he went on, "is protection from over-development and its consequences.

In comparison to the well researched and well argued case put forward by the objectors, the case presented to the Committee by the developers was weak, rambling and lacking in focus. Marilyn Brichard of Philip Ryley and Co, who spoke first, hardly argued the case for the development at all. Instead, she spent nearly all her allotted time attacking the objectors whose campaign had been "vitriolic". Some objectors were persuading the more gullible to join them. None of objectors seemed to know what they were talking about. And Anthony Rae said this, and Anthony Rae was party to that decision. Anthony sat patiently shaking his head. After a while, Philip Bintliff of Studio Baad took over, but those in the audience were also shaking their heads, in disbelief that the developers had not put together something more professional.

When the clerk stopped Phillip Bintliff, Miss Brichard complained that the committee hadn't "allowed us as much time as Mr Rae." The chair explained, as a teacher would to a small child, that the clerk had timed each side.

Cllr Peter Coles (Lib Dem, Luddenden Foot) proposed the motion that the development not go ahead, citing reasons along the lines of it being too big in scale and out of tune with the surroundings. After some discussion, the motion was passed by five votes to two. The two who voted against were the Chair, Martin Peel (Conservative, Sowerby Bridge) and Geoffrey Wallace, (Independent, after being sacked from the BNP in December, Illingworth and Mixenden).

The motion opposing the development was seconded by Cllr Jennifer Pearson (Lib Dem, Warley) who described Hebden Bridge as one of the great jewels in Calderdale's crown.

BBC report

Courier report


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