The picturesque small village of Hawkswick in the Yorkshire Dales became a byword for inconsistent planning decisions in the early 1990s – and now those who suffered the most are appealing to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) planning committee for justice.
Mr and Mrs Mick and Ginette Hawkins and Mrs Michelle Pickles of what was Hazel Head Barn in Hawkswick have the support of a leading London barrister who sees no reason why the YDNPA shouldn’t correct the injustice done in 1990.
And Alastair Dinsdale, the chairman the Association of Rural Communities, stated at its recent annual meeting: “This was an absolutely gross inconsistency. It’s time that the Authority rectified this injustice”.
This injustice arose out of the ad hoc determination of planning applications in the National Park at the time which was described by a YDNPA member (N Yorks County Coun Roger Harrison-Topham) at the July 2012 planning committee as the “Wild West” days.
For example at Hawkswick an application for the conversion of The Ballroom (directly opposite Hazel Head barn) was approved in 1986 demonstrating that open market residential barn conversions were acceptable in that village. Three years later two further applications were made for barn conversions in Hawkswick and although these were considered at the same YDNPA planning committee meeting in November 1989, they ended up being determined very differently – that for Hazel Head barn being subject to a ‘local occupancy’ legal agreement and the other not, even though it was just 100 metres away.
Susan Woodhead recollected that she and her late husband were told in October 1990 that unless a very restrictive local occupancy agreement (section 52) was signed planning permission would not be granted to convert Hazel Head barn into two dwellings (Hawksnest and Holme Barn) for their married daughters. “We had five days in which to sign – we were given no option,” Mrs Woodhead said. “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. The inconsistency and unfairness is self-evident,” she commented.
Permission was granted for another nearby barn conversion in June 1993 with the only restriction being that it had to be the principle residence (not second home) of the owner. While accepting that Mrs Woodhead and her family might feel aggrieved that other development was permitted in the 1990s without occupancy restrictions, the YDNPA’s senior legal officer (Clare Bevan) and its head of development management (Richard Graham) have argued that the S52 agreement could not be lifted without affecting about 100 other legal agreements and so reducing the pool of “local occupancy” housing within the national park.
The majority of those are Section 106 agreements which the Planner for Mrs Woodhead’s family, Andrew Moss, of Ward Hadaway in Newcastle upon Tyne, has maintained are not the same as the S52 agreements.The request for lifting the S52 agreement was discussed by the YDNPA planning committee in July 2012 when members deferred making a decision and asked officers to try and find a compromise.
When it came before the committee in October the officers quoted parts of the confidential barrister’s advice the Authority had sought including the statement: “I cannot see any basis on which the Planning Authority should accede to the applicants request to discharge the agreement.”
At that meeting Mr Moss asked for the S52 to be removed. As an alternative he offered a possible compromise – to change the S52 to a S106 in accordance with those in existence in 1994 which restricted occupancy to those who would make it their primary dwelling and not a second home. A decision was deferred so that he could discuss that with officers.
After those discussions he said: “My clients were disappointed with the officers’ only suggestion, namely to change the existing S52 into a S106 agreement with the latest local occupancy wording. (This) would not address their contention that the S52 was unfairly imposed.” The latest wording restricts occupancy to those living or working in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
In response Mr Moss consulted Paul Brown QC, one of the highest ranking barristers in the country and a copy of his Opinion was sent to the YDNPA in early November. Unlike that obtained by the YDNPA Mr Brown’s Opinion is not confidential.
Mr Brown stated: “It is one of the ironies of this case that the only reason there is now a section 52 agreement in respect of (Hazel Head barn) is because the owners of Hazel Head Farm did not question the LPA’s (Local Planning Authority) insistence … that this was essential. “The resulting inconsistency between the treatment of Hazel Head barn and (other) properties is undeniable. In simple terms, the owners of Hawksnest and Holme Barn have been unfairly disadvantaged because their parents co-operated with, rather than challenged, the LPA. As a matter of law, there is absolutely no reason why the National Park Authority cannot recognise the injustice that has caused by agreeing to discharge the section 52 agreement.” Mr Brown also argued that discharging this would not set a significant precedent that would undermine any S106 agreements made at that time, and very few, if any, S52 agreements.
At the agm of the Association of Rural Communities at Kettlewell in November former YDNPA member, Stephen Butcher, pointed out that those living at Hawksnest and Holme Barn were paying a very high price for now challenging the YDNPA both in financial terms and with their health and lives in general when all they ever wanted was consistency and fairness.
This case has now been on-going for over 20 months and Mr Hawkins is suffering from a stress related illness. He was a renowned fell runner and represented Great Britain in steeplechase teams on numerous occasions throughout the world including at the Auckland Commonwealth Games. “He was one of the fittest men in the country,” commented Mr Butcher.
The Association of Rural Communities was founded in 1995 when the anger against the planning inconsistencies in the National Park was at its height and hundreds attended the protest meetings organised by it. It continues to campaign for consistency in planning decisions in the Yorkshire Dales.
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