YDNPA Planning Committee, John Blackie and “cherry picking”decisions

“John Blackie isn’t here to defend himself.. and he has been attacked by several members,”  Allen Kirkbride firmly interjected at the beginning of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s  ( YDNPA ) planning committee meeting on Tuesday July 9.

When the planning meeting started Gary Smith, YDNPA director of conservation and community, was in the chair as the first items on the agenda were membership of the committee and then the election of the chairman. But before he could get  on with that  Craven District councillor Carl Lis, who is the chairman of the Authority, asked for a statement to be read out as Cllr Blackie and others had raised questions about who had been allowed to attend and vote at the meeting in June.

Mr Smith read the following: “In June Mrs Pattison was perfectly entitled to be at that meeting. National legislation related to the membership of National Park Authorities under the Environment Act makes it clear that where a member is appointed by one of the local authorities to serve on the National Park Authority they remain a member up to the point where that Authority appoints somebody else to replace them. If that goes on for more than three months then the authority ceases at that point.”

Cllr Lis than said how disappointed he was that Mrs Pattison was not at the July meeting because she was so upset at the way her attendance in June had been questioned. He said that Cllr Blackie had phoned her.

Member Jim Munday then read a long statement he had sent to the press the day before much of which had been published by Richmondshire Today along with the suggestion by Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council that it should hold a vote of no confidence in the National Park. Mr Munday stated:“I hope that the people attending the Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council meeting next week will hold their chairman John Blackie to account.”

At the meeting he ended with: “And finally I do hope that Mr Blackie will not be tempted to bully the staff. The staff  here are doing a job with a policy that he and the rest of us devised and agreed.”

North Yorkshire County councillor Robert Heseltine said he agreed with everything Mr Munday had said.

Mr Smith tried to carry on with the agenda  (none of what had been said by Cllrs Les and Heseltine and Mr Munday having been listed on the  agenda).  But not before Cllr Kirkbride  pointed out that Cllr Blackie was not there to defend himself. (Cllr Blackie had been admitted to the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton,  on Monday July 8 and died there on Sunday July 13.)

Once Julie Martin was elected as chairman, and Neil Swain as deputy chairman (both being  Secretary of State appointees), and the minutes of the last meeting were approved, Mrs Martin said there would be a five minute adjournment while she was briefed on the next item on the agenda. And that was this statement by the Association of Rural Communities:

“This Authority states that its code of practice ‘is to ensure that in the planning process there are no grounds for suggesting that a decision has been biased, partial or not well founded in any way.’

“Last month it was emphasised once again that the members of the planning committee should make decisions according to policy. But do you?

“At the meeting in February a planning officer made it very clear that a decision to approve the conversion of Dodds Hall Barn near Gayle would not be in accordance with policy. The committee accepted his recommendation to approve the conversion of the barn to provide visitor accommodation and a manager’s dwelling for a ‘horse assisted healing business’.

“This included a stable block and a large two-storey extension with a balcony. How does that compare with the tight restrictions which have been placed on other barn conversions or the reasons that have been given to refused an application?

“How then can you say to a local young couple seeking to convert a barn into a family home that you consistently adhere to policy? It looks instead as if you are cherry picking.

“For many years it was accepted by the planning committee that decisions should be deferred until newly elected district and county councillors could be there to represent their constituents. At the June meeting a request to defer a decision until the new Richmondshire District Council members were in attendance was refused. And yet Margaret Pattison was allowed to attend and vote even though she is no longer a Lancaster City Councillor.

“This is not a personal comment regarding Mrs Pattison. Nor is this about just the rules…

“How can this be seen by the public to be acting with integrity and fairness?”

Mrs Martin stated: “We don’t normally respond directly to public statements but given the seriousness with which we treat this particular issue we will provide a full written response to all the points you have raised.”

For the statement from Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council and Jim Munday’s response see post on Richmondshire Today.

DoddsHallBarn1s

Above: Dodds Hall Barn on Beggarmans Lane, Gayle

Below: the barn at Hawes which was described by a planning officer as being in the open countryside.

This is the response from Cllr Carl Lis, chairman of  the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to the statement and questions made by the Association of Rural Communities:

Thank you for your public statement at the National Park Authority (NPA) Planning Committee on Tuesday 9 July. It raises a number of allegations that are of concern to the whole Authority rather than simply the Planning Committee, so I have decided the response should come from me as Chairman. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding but I took the judgement that the sad news of Mr Blackie’s death should not be overshadowed by this issue.

I will turn first to the issue of determining planning applications. As you know, all planning applications must be determined in accordance with the Development Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. That is a matter of law. This is because planning policies – which have been adopted after wide public consultation and formal examination by a Planning Inspector – should not be set aside without sound planning reasons for doing so.

The application for development at Dodds Hall Barn (essentially for visitor and manager accommodation and equine business) was considered to be contrary to the Development Plan. Whilst it me the locational requirements of policy L2 (being a roadside barn because of its curtilage and pre-existing track), the policy concerns centred on the intensity of the use and the impact on the landscape. However, on the particular facts of that application, the Committee concluded that there were material planning considerations, in the form of social and economic benefits for the local area, which justified approval.

The application for the development at the Shearlings, Hawes (conversion of barn to dwelling for local occupancy/holiday let) did not meet the locational criteria under L2, and there were no material considerations identified to justify approval. Again, the Planning Committee considered all the points that were made at the meeting and resolved to refuse the application.

When making decisions, the Authority always tries to apply some flexibility where material (i.e. lawful) considerations allow, something I understand ARC would want us to do. But with the best will in the world, that flexibility cannot lawfully extend to allowing any development anywhere simply because the applicant is ‘local’.

It is telling to note that in the case of Dodds Hall Barn the applicant sought pre-application advice from the Authority , and amended the proposal to bring it more in line with policy. Unfortunately, in the case of the Barn at the Shearlings (and the 3 other barns that have been refused in Upper Wensleydale), the applicants did not seek pre-application advice from planning officers. If they had, they would have been advised of the clear policy conflict at the outset. There is clearly an issue here when nearly half of all the refusals under L2 have occurred in one small part of the National Park – and we will be taking steps to try to encourage people to get proper advice before risking their money and time.

On your second point, the terms of membership of the National Park Authority are set out in national legislation. The law provides that if a member is waiting to be replaced on an NPA following an election, that individual continues to be an NPA member until a new appointment is made by the appointing authority (subject to an upper time limit of three months). We are still awaiting notice of a replacement appointment from Lancaster City Council following the elections in May. Accordingly Ms Pattison was fully entitled to take part at the June meeting as a Lancaster City Council appointee. That has been the law for over 12 years.

I was surprised that you chose to raise this issue in relation to Ms Pattison. At the May Planning Committee, Mrs Caroline Thornton-Berry not only attended the meeting but she actually chaired it, even though she was no longer a member of Richmondshire District Council at the time. I do not recall you raising any concern in relation to that instance.

Finally, at this difficult time for the Authority with Mr Blackie’s demise I would suggest that if ARC wants to have a serious discussion ab out how we – and the local district councils – might tackle the difficult and complex challengers around the availability and affordability of housing, then I would genuinely welcome that.

 

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