An ARC News Service report on the decision of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority ‘s (YDNPA) planning committee on February 12 to lift a section 52 agreement on a barn conversion in Hawkswick near Kettlewell.
“I don’t see … that we as a planning committee are here to cause stress, upset and pain to our residents for deeds done in the past,” commented Nick Thwaite when the members discussed the application by two families in Hawkswick to lift the section 52 agreement on their homes.
Usually he supported the officers but this time he couldn’t because he believed this had been an unfair restriction. Like other members he referred to the fact that in the early 1990s a strict local occupancy agreement had been imposed on one barn conversion but not on another nearby.
Craven District Coun John Roberts was also upset by this inconsistency and described the section 52 agreement as draconian and undemocratic because it not only restricted the sale of either of the two dwellings created in Hazel Head Barn to someone working within a 10 mile radius which excluded Skipton but was also very difficult to lodge an appeal against.
Graham Dalton and Chris Armitage argued that the officer’s recommendation not to lift the agreement should be accepted because the precedent set could endanger the Authority’s Local Plan policy of building up a reserve of “local need” housing. Armitage warned that by lifting the agreement the committee could blow a hole in that policy. And Dalton pointed out that the policy was aimed at sustaining the communities in the Yorkshire Dales rather than seeing the villages full of second homes and weekend cottages.
For Ann Brooks the injustice of one family having to sign such an agreement while another in the same village didn’t need to, made the situation at Hazel Head Barn an exceptional circumstance at that particular time.
Craven Dt Coun Robert Heseltine, who was the chairman of both the National Park committee and its planning committee in the early 1990s explained that the Interim Housing Policy at that time pioneered the concept of local need housing. It had not, however, been accepted by the Secretary of State. “It wasn’t discredited – it was an evolving policy,” he said.
He believed that the officer’s recommendation concerning Hazel Head Barn was legally correct but he wasn’t convinced with the arguments about precedent. He added: “I think I’m obliged because I was chairman of the authority at that time – I think I am going to give you Members the guidance of lifting this section 52 on this property and we will take the consequences that come.”
N Yorks County Coun Roger Harrison-Topham commented that in the early 1990’s the Authority hadn’t had a policy. “It was the sort of Wild West era. There was a strong element of random walk of what went on – so it comes as no surprise that there were these contradictions and perceptions of unfairness. Do we say ‘rough justice’ or do we take the view that rough justice is not justice?” He wasn’t sure what precedent would be made by lifting the agreement but felt that it was important to get things right.
There were, however, others who had suffered a similar injustice at that time warned N Yorks County Coun John Blackie. “Officers are bound to want to hang on to those Section 52 agreements. I commend them for their stance – but I think they are defending what is probably indefensible. They are standing their ground on shifting sands because the policy base ….is not sustainable.” He, like the majority of the committee, felt it was time to lift the agreement on Hazel Head Barn.
The officer’s recommendation was, therefore, turned down and immediately Coun Roberts proposed that the Section 52 agreement should be discharged. The senior legal officer, Clare Bevan, explained that this could be done because the majority of members put more weight on the perceived unfairness and the personal circumstances of the applicants. The applicants’ planning advisor, Andrew Moss of WardHadaway, had pointed out that in the officers’ report it had been noted that unfairness and personal circumstances were matters which could be taken into account. The majority voted in favour of Coun Roberts’ proposal and Bevan said that a formal deed of release would be drawn up.
The applicants, Mick and Ginette Hawkins and Michelle Pickles were stunned and ecstatic that after 20 long, stressful years their pleas for the Section 52 to be lifted had finally been heard.
See also A call for justice