An ARC News Service report on the meeting of the planning committee of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority ( YDNPA ) on February 9 at which the following were discussed: 5G test-bed mast at West Scrafton; new housing development at Bainbridge; and an application regarding Marske Hall.
Pip Pointon reports on the YDNPA meetings on a voluntary basis as part of the Association of Rural Communities commitment to local democracy in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Richard Welch – A minute’s silence was observed at the beginning of the meeting to remember Richard Welch. Julie Martin, the chairman, said they were deeply saddened to hear of his death and added: “Richard cared very deeply about planning issues and their effect upon his local community. And I am sure that you, like me, will really miss him.”
Telecommunications mast (5G test-bed) at West Scrafton
Wensleydale School students living in Coverdale are having to sit in cars parked on top of a hill to get digital connection so they can participate in lessons during lockdown, North Yorkshire County councillor Karin Sedgwick told the planning committee.
She reported that she had been told there wasn’t much point in giving students iPads if there was no broadband or mobile phone connection. Nor could doctors carry out consultations or send prescriptions online due to the lack of connectivity in Coverdale. And that was why she fully supported MANY’s application to install a mast at a farm near West Scrafton as part of the 5G trial programme.
She believed that during the public consultation the questions and issues regarding 5G had been answered and said: “Digital connectivity isn’t a luxury. It’s an absolute necessity these days.”
Matt O’Neill, the county council’s lead responsible officer for MANY (Mobile Access North Yorkshire) explained that parts of Coverdale did not even have basic 2G connectivity which was launched in 1991. “During the same period since 2G was launched we have seen the outward migration of our young people from the dales. Rural communities and this area in particular have missed out for over 30 years on mobile coverage and broadband,” he said.
The committee unanimously agreed to approve the application by Quickline Communications to install a 15m high monopole with mobile communications antenna and equipment cabinet at West Scrafton. This, the planning officer said, was one of three masts in the MANY project supported by North Yorkshire County Council which were required to provide connectivity especially to ‘not spots’ in the Coverdale area.
About making the decision, parish councillor member Ian McPherson commented: “This is like stepping into a lion’s den. I am aware that this has been extremely controversial and that there are very strong feelings … on both sides.
“I have always been very wary about mobile phone masts not only because of their impact on the environment but also because the possible health problems that they could give rise to. But what we are essentially looking at here is how we address the issue of very clear ‘not spots’ in Coverdale… Not being able to get mobile coverage could be a matter of life or death. It is pretty clear that this [mast] will blend in well.
“I did read Professor David Hill’s letter because I place a great deal of credence on what he might say. But I’m afraid I have to say that I don’t think it fully addresses the legal side or a material planning consideration in this particular case. Although there are genuine local objections … I do consider that the local need for broadband and mobile coverage actually overrides these questions.”
Like the planning officer he quoted the government’s guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF): “Local planning authorities must determine applications on planning grounds only. They should not seek to prevent competition between different operators, question the need for an electronic communications system, or set health safeguards different from the International Commission guidelines for public exposure.”
He said: “The applicants have provided a declaration confirming that the proposed installation complies with the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNRP) guidelines for exposure of the public to radio frequency and electromagnetic fields. Nevertheless, objectors say that certain scientific studies are critical of ICNIRP safe exposure guidelines and consider that the development will have an adverse impact on the health of the public, wildlife and the environment and that a precautionary principle should be applied. The objectors refer to various scientific studies but none that can be applied directly to this site.”
Cllr McPherson stated: “I don’t think we have any legal position to be able to object on [health] grounds. It doesn’t seem we have any legal right to provide a different view from that of the International Commission.”
Speaking on behalf of objectors Harriet Corner told the committee that although the planning officer’s report stated that the area selected for the 5G trial programme [covering West Witton, Middleham and Coverdale] had limited or no coverage, 90 per cent of the premises did already have access to superfast broadband. She quoted government policy that the number of radio and electronic communication masts should be kept to a minimum whereas, she said, the 5G programme would lead to a proliferation of them.
She argued that EE intended to provide mobile coverage from the mast at Gildersbeck and that superfast broadband now reached as far as Horsehouse in upper Coverdale. “MANY never told its consultees that there were better alternatives. MANY project manager Mr Michael Grayson has given written evidence that the [5G] project will not go ahead without the majority support of the community. This has not been demonstrated. All that has been shown so far is support for connectivity.”
The planning officer said that there had been 63 objections and 41 in support of the new mast. West Scrafton Parish Meeting he said had reported that seven had objected to the project, whilst 35 had supported it because of the importance of improved mobile phone coverage both for domestic use and also personal safety when out and about. It added: “Whilst it was acknowledged that the fibre broadband is excellent in the village the lack of a mobile signal has been a constant complaint for many years.”
Richmondshire District councillor John Amsden stated in support of the mast application: “I have been speaking to quite a few farmers in Coverdale. As you know agriculture is a very dangerous occupation. If anybody has an accident or heart condition or anything like that and they need an ambulance they have no connection whatsoever.”
Even though three local Members told the committee that the construction of five houses near the Rose and Crown at Bainbridge would be in danger of flooding and would not provide affordable homes that local people wanted the majority voted to approve the development.
Parish council member Allen Kirkbride told the committee: “Nearly the whole of the village of Bainbridge [say] this is the wrong development in the wrong place and it is not affordable to the vast majority of people. The whole field is likely to flood. I’ve known it all my life and basically it has been a bog for most of the time.
“The access has not been approved by Highways. The application fails to preserve and enhance the parish conservation area. The shared housing accommodation will not work in a rural area.”
Bainbridge Parish Council had told the committee that it was not only concerned about flooding but also that shared ownership was not appealing to local people and had not proved successful in alleviating the housing crisis. “Local people need local properties that are available for them to buy at truly affordable prices.”
It had supported an application in 2018 through which local people could have bought the houses at a 30 per cent discount. But the Holmbrae 2016 Residents Group (Holmbrae is some of the new housing behind the Rose and Crown) said it would lodge a Judicial Review challenge as it questioned whether the houses would be affordable when taking into account local incomes.
In February 2018 Members still decided to approve the application. In February this year the planning officer reported that the site owner and applicant had then met with the Authority in January 2019 and the options were discussed in the light of the threat of legal challenge. One of those options was shared ownership managed by a Housing Association.
The planning officer continued: “This is a national government-backed scheme aimed primarily at first-time buyers, with the homeowner purchasing a defined share of between 25% and 80% of the dwelling, and the Housing Association retaining the remaining share with an affordable rent being paid on this remaining share. Homeowners would seek a mortgage for the share that they intend to purchase with a minimum deposit of 5%. Homeowners are able to purchase more shares later as and when they can afford them; this is known as ‘staircasing’. When homeowners wish to sell, the Housing Association has ‘first refusal’ on the property and also has the right to find a buyer.”
He said that if there was no buyer for the shared ownership a house could revert to affordable rent also in accordance to the local connection rule. This means, he explained, that the houses will be first offered to those in the parish of Bainbridge, then to those in neighbouring parishes, and finally anyone in the Yorkshire Dales National Park [2,179km2 841m2 ] will be eligible. After that anyone in Richmondshire could apply.
The planning officer stated: “Whilst this proposal is intermediate affordable housing that will not be affordable to those in housing need on the lowest incomes, assuming that all the units sell, it will still address a clear affordable housing need as well as a recent history of undersupply within this locality, the wider National Park and the Richmondshire District as a whole.”
Jim Munday, Member Champion for Development Management, said if the houses didn’t sell they would be offered on the basis of affordable rent. “Whichever way it goes we have affordable homes,” he said and added:
“The population of the national park is in decline and its changing. We need at least 55 new dwellings a year to stop a decline. Last year only 22 were completed. We need more homes.
Secondly we have a stated policy that throughout the national park there’s a place to live for younger working age households. To help halt the decline in numbers we need more affordable homes for local people. “
Allen Kirkbride remarked: “We are all in favour of new local housing for local people but we need them in the right places – the National Park wants to get the figures up and its pointless getting the figures up if the housing you build are in the wrong places which these are.”
The over-development of Marske Hall and other buildings would cause permanent harm to the deeply rural and tranquil character of that part of Swaledale, a planning officer told the committee.
Richmondshire District councillor Kenneth Good also emphasised this, as had Marske and New Forest Parish Council. And the committee voted unanimously to refuse the application to convert Marske Hall from 10 open market apartments to a 20 room aparthotel and the kennels and Sawmill into events venues.
Cllr Good said: “Marske is a very quiet and beautiful village. It has no commercial activity at all. I think the last pub closed over 120 years ago and, apart from the church, everything else is residential or agricultural.”
He agreed with the parish council which had stated: “The parish council would welcome development of Marske Hall … but developments cannot be at the detriment of the community of Marske and New Forest.”
The parish council and residents were particularly concerned about creating a wedding venue for up to 70 people in the Sawmill rather than converting it into two three bedroom dwellings or holiday let units for which permission was granted in 2016. The parish council also noted that no consideration had been given to include local housing development or long term residential lettings.
The planning officer said that the noise seven days a week from such a venue would be catastrophic because of the impact on the peace and tranquililty due to the comings and goings of guests and the use of amplified music which were part and parcel of the wedding use. She did not accept the opinion of the applicant, Mr I Morton, that the events venues were required to make the development viable.
She reported that the applicant had asked for a decision to be deferred to that amendments to the plans could be made. But, she said, these would include the retention of the Sawmill as a wedding venue and even a reduction in the hours of use would not be sufficient. She added: “The wedding venue is considered to be harmful in any form by the nature of the activities it brings with it.”
Her other concerns included the impact of creating car parking spaces within the picturesque garden as well as the under provision of spaces for cars which could only be remedied by removing trees. She said the applicant had offered to plant more trees but had not specified where.
The parish council reported that the access and egress to the site was considered to be hazardous as it was located on blind corners and the Highways Authority had also objected. The planning officer said there could be 147 people on the site each day excluding staff.
Historic England, like the Authority’s senior listed building officer, had raised concerns about the impact of the proposed work on the historic decorative detailing inside Marske Hall. The planning officer said that the 16th century hall, which was extensively remodelled and extended in 1730, was of historic and architectural grandeur.
The Hall, the Sawmill and the kennels are Grade II listed buildings. The committee was told that the cumulative impact of the proposed work on the Sawmill would cause substantial harm to the significances of the listed building.’
A resident, Naomi Meredith, told the committee that all the objections by residents were not a case of opposing any development in their backyard but rather the over-development of the site. This would not only threaten the very things that local walkers and coast-to-coast walkers valued such as peace and tranquillity. wildlife and dark skies, but also have a hugely adverse impact on the farmer whose access goes through the site, she said.
Cllr Good commented: “The farmer is extremely concerned because he would have to go up and down the track with people coming and going and there is concern that the noise could affect animals.
Another Richmondshire District councillor, Stuart Parsons, informed the committee that when the main road into Swaledale was closed for any reason the county council directed traffic along the narrow road through Marske. He had driven The Little White Bus along that alternative route – “It was an absolute nightmare. The big problem was if you met a large agricultural vehicle,’ he said.