My personal view on events at the October meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee meeting – and how the YDNPA is failing to rectify the inconsistencies in planning decisions in the 1990s.
Question: Does the YDNPA have a moral duty to remedy the anguish and pain caused by its often grossly inconsistent planning decisions between 1986 and 1993?
Events at the October meeting of the YDNPA planning committee brought back for me vivid memories of the mid 1990s when there was so much anger and pain in the Yorkshire Dales over the often huge inconsistencies in planning decisions. Many people queried the basis on which those decisions were being made and if some of those connected with the YDNPA – which is a quango and so unaccountable to the electorate – were using their power to manipulate those decisions.
The small hamlet of Hawkswick is, sadly, a perfect illustration of those inconsistencies. Between 1986 and 1993 the Authority permitted four barn conversions. There were no restrictions on two of those and so they could be sold on the open market. That which received approval in 1993 can only be used as a principle residence. But the owner of Hazel Head Barn was, in her words, forced in 1990 to sign a stringent Section 52 agreement. (see below for the full ARC News Release)
She is now asking for that agreement to be lifted. The YDNPA has paid for expensive legal advice to prove that it shouldn’t. To some members of the Authority it’s simply a case of: She signed it and now she and those living in the two dwellings created as part of that conversion are stuck with it.
One of the arguments put forward by the Authority is that it is the custodian of public interest. No-one attending the meetings of the Association of Rural Communities in 1996 could have been in any doubt that local residents felt that the Authority had, at that time, completely abrograted its right to that custodianship.
The Authority has also argued that since 1989 it has consistently followed a policy of building up a pool of ‘local occupancy’ housing in the National Park and does not wish to undermine its ability to retain that. I doubt anyone would argue with an objective that is so essential to the sustainability of communities within the Yorkshire Dales. And yet at the October planning committee meeting we witnessed an example of the Authority failing to safeguard such housing.
The only dwellings which can be constructed in the open countryside are those which are tied to agriculture or forestry. And yet one such house – Calf Croft in Cracoe – has now been sold on the open market. At the October meeting the Authority failed to answer ARC’s questions about how to make sure that could not happen again in the future.
So at one meeting there were yet again glaring inconsistencies. On one hand the Authority took the “high ground” arguing that as our public custodian it could not free the occupants of the Hazel Head barn conversion from the S52 agreement. And on the other it hid behind what can only be described as bureaucratic gobbledygook to cover up its inability to protect many ‘local occupancy’ homes in the open countryside from being sold on the open market.
So I agree with another ARC committee member, Stephen Butcher, that this is absolutely scandalous.
ARC News Service – news release regarding the barns of Hawkswick:
It took over two months for the planning department of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to provide relevant information even though it was told in July to hold further negotiations with an applicant. This led, on Tuesday, October 9, to the applicant’s agent, Andrew Moss of Ward Hadaway in Newcastle, telling the YDNPA planning committee that one report reached him by email five minutes before he left his office that morning. He had received another important document just one week before the meeting.
At the July planning committee members had deferred making a decision about lifting the legal Section 52 agreement on the Hazel Head Barn conversion at Hawkswick in Littondale to give the planning department more time to negotiate with the applicant. The S52 agreements were the first to be introduced to try and build up a stock of housing restricted in occupancy to specific limited groups of people. The YDNPA was making these a condition on barn conversions and some new buildings in the early 1990s during a period which one of its present members, N Yorks County Coun Roger Harrison-Topham, described as the “Wild West days” of ad hoc planning decisions. These led to so much anger against the Authority that hundreds in 1996 joined the newly formed Association of Rural Communities as a protest.
At Tuesday’s meeting Stephen Butcher asked, on behalf of the Association, when the YDNPA was going to deal with the great inconsistencies that occurred during that period.
What happened in Hawkswick was a good example. In 1986 the YDNPA gave permission for a barn conversion in Hawkswick. This showed that under the Authority’s Barn conversion policy at the time that Hawkswick was recognised as a settlement where such new dwellings could be created. In November 1989 the planning committee approved two barn conversions in Hawskwick on the condition that the applicants signed S52 agreements. The owners of Hazel Head Barn were given five days to sign the S52 Agreement. “We subsequently discovered that not all future barn conversions had to comply with the Section 52 Agreement, which we had been forced to agree to, in order to get planning permission,” Mrs Susan Woodhead recounted later.
The owners of the other barn refused to sign. Planning permission for that conversion was then granted without any occupancy restriction. In 1993 permission was given for another barn conversion in Hawkswick on the condition that it could only be used as the principle residence and not as a second home.
Richard Graham, the head of development management at the YDNPA, re-iterated at the meeting on October 9, that the Authority had followed a consistent policy since 1989 of trying to increase the number of homes available for “local occupancy” within the National Park. He also said that the Hazel Head Barn application was an exception to the Authority’s Barn Conversion policy. Mr Moss said that this remains an area of dispute as other barn conversions in Hawkswick considered against the Authority’s Barn Conversion policy were found to comply with that policy and granted planning permission without being subject of an occupancy restriction.
Mr Graham additionally told the meeting that legal agreements for local occupancy (both S52 and S106) had been given for 19 barn conversions between 1989 and 1993. The Authority had offered to change the agreement on the Hazel Head barn conversion to an S106 agreement. The S52 agreement restricts occupancy to those working within 10 miles of the dwelling. Nor can the dwelling be sold to anyone living outside of that radius. He argued that if the S52 was lifted without replacing it with an S106, other properties could be lost from the pool of local needs housing.
At the meeting on Tuesday the members agreed to defer a decision so that a possible compromise put forward by Mr Moss could be discussed if the Authority was not agreeable to the complete removal of the S52. N Yorks County Coun John Blackie asked that a meeting should be arranged between Mr Graham and Mr Moss within two weeks.
Hazel Head Barn was converted into two dwellings – Hawksnest and Holme Barn. The occupants are related to Mrs Woodhead.
ARC’s question to the YDNPA planning committee on Tuesday, October 9, presented by Mr Butcher:
We would like to know how the Authority is going to deal with the great inconsistencies that occurred in planning decisions during the 1990s. As some will recall I and other farmers who were members of the Authority’s planning committee were totally opposed to the application in 1999 to build the house now known as Calf Croft in open countryside at Cracoe because we argued that a wild boar farm there would not be viable. One of the conditions on that house was to tie it to agriculture or forestry. And yet we understand that in July the Authority issued a certificate of lawfulness on the basis that the owners had not complied with the agricultural occupancy condition for four years and were now immune from enforcement. The house, smallholding and other buildings were subsequently put up for sale on the open market for about £690,000. How can the Authority ensure that a dwelling in open countryside with an agricultural tie continues to have such a restriction on it? What could the Authority do if that dwelling was no longer being used by someone practising agriculture or forestry?”
The YDNPA response to this question presented by Richard Graham, head of development management:
“The Authority’s local plan policy H4 seeks to restrict new housing in the open countryside to full time workers in agriculture, forestry or other rural based enterprises where the need for someone to be on hand, in the particular location and at all times, is clearly demonstrated.
“Any dwelling approved under policy H4 is subject to an agricultural occupancy condition. Policy H4 also provides for an agricultural occupancy restriction subsequently to default to a local needs restriction if the property is marketed for a suitable period at a price that reflects the restriction and no agricultural occupant is forthcoming.This approach adopted by H4 is endorsed by the National Planning Policy Framework.
“If the Authority becomes aware that an agricultural dwelling is being occupied by persons who do not comply with the occupancy condition, it considers what action is appropriate in the particular circumstances of the case. This may result in the Authority taking formal enforcement action, such as issuing a planning enforcement notice requiring the unauthorised occupation of the dwelling to cease.
“Any planning applications received to vary or remove an agricultural occupancy condition are considered on their particular facts in accordance with relevant up to date development plan policies and any other material planning considerations.”
ARC subsequently pointed out that this did not answer the main question: Just how would the Authority ensure that an agricultural tie would continue on a dwelling where those living in it had ceased carrying out any agricultural or forestry work?
It also queried the decision letter sent to the owners of Calf Croft in July this year. In this the YDNPA planning department stated:
The Authority considers that the applicant has proved, on the balance of probabilities, that the property (Calf Croft) had been constructed and since occupied continuously for the preceding four years as a dwellinghouse without complying with conditions precedent. As such the said planning permission was not implemented. The dwelling was constructed without planning permission and is now immune from enforcement action.”
ARC then asked: How can it be said that the dwelling was constructed without planning permission and had not complied with conditions when there was a wild boar farm there from 1999 to 2001? If the house was constructed after 2001 why didn’t the Authority take any action?