Setbray/Belmont Homes wins deferral from Calderdale Council Planning Committee

Despite the Planning Officer’s recommendation to refuse the Setbray/Belmont Homes planning application for a supermarket, hotel and hydro power station on the Mytholm Works site, Calderdale Council Planning Committee yesterday voted to defer the application, in order to give the developers time to submit a retail impact assessment. The developers had refused to provide one when the Planning Officer had asked them for a retail impact assessment during pre-Planning Committee discussions.

Planning Officer: proposed development would damage town centre’s viability and vitality as well as local ecosystems

The Planning Officer recommended refusal of the planning application on the grounds that the impact of the proposed supermarket on other Hebden Bridge businesses would damage the “vitality and viability” of Hebden Bridge Town Centre, and that the proposed development had not provided enough information to show that it would not damage the natural environment and the river ecosystem.

Following the Planning Officer’s summary of his reasons for recommending refusal of the planning application, Councillor Hardy opened the discussion with a comment on the lack of a full retail impact assessment from the developers, which he said made it difficult to assess the application. The planning officer replied that the applicant had been advised to submit further information on retail impact but declined to do so.

Roger Lee, the developer’s agent, asked the Planning Committee for a deferral, to allow more time for him to produce a retail impact assessment. He said that, despite requests from the Planning Officer to produce a retail impact assessment, he had not provided one because the size of the proposed supermarket was below the threshold at which the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) required a retail impact assessment.

He also said discussions were ongoing with Calderdale officers and Natural England regarding the ecology concerns raised in the planning officers’ recommendation to refuse.

The Planning Officer pointed out that although, according to the NPPF, a retail impact assessment was not required for a supermarket of the size proposed in this planning application, Calderdale Council was entitled to require one, given that Hebden Bridge is a small town, and he had made this plain to the developers in meetings.

Planning rules: refuse application if developers fail to provide enough info

According to planning rules, the Planning Officer explained that if the developers failed to produce adequate information then the Planning Committee should refuse the application. However, Councillors noted that developers only have “two bites of the cherry” in making a planning application and if the Planning Committee refused this application, the developers would only have one more chance to re-submit their application.

Soft-hearted councillors give second bite of cherry to developers

Some people might at this point say “tough shit” or words to that effect. However apparently Calderdale Councillors on the Planning Committee are a soft-hearted lot, at least when it comes to the interests of property owners and developers.

They decided that, in the absence of a retail impact assessment by the developers, they could not assess whether the Planning Officer’s judgement was correct when he determined that the supermarket would damage Hebden Bridge town centre businesses and the vitality and viability of the town centre.

To an outsider, this looks like quite a surprising vote of no confidence in the professional skills of the Council’s Planning Officer.

According to planning guidelines, Calderdale Council is supposed to make a decision on the planning application within 13 weeks and this is week 9, so you’d think that the developers have four weeks to produce more information about the retail impact of the proposed supermarket and hotel and about the impact on the natural environment and river ecosystem. But following the Planning Committee meeting, Energy Royd has been advised that  the 13 week timescale is the required target for the Council to process applications. Since it will take some time to complete the retail impact study, it may be some time before it comes back to the Planning Committee.

The planning officer mentioned that there were two late representations about the proposed hydro electric power station, one on behalf of someone who’s applied to the Environment Agency for permission to install a micro-hydro generator in Colden Water, and another from the Environment Agency stating that it is unlikely that the Colden Water could support the proposed Mytholm Works site hydropower station in addition to the one already underway.

Objectors speak out

Sam Williams spoke on behalf of the Hebden Bridge Co-op against the application. Referring to the impact on the town centre and on the Co-op, he estimated the Coop’s turnover would reduce by 30% as a consequence of the proposed supermarket.

Jenny Shepherd, speaking as Incredible Edible Mytholm secretary and also on behalf of Calder and Colne Rivers Trust, summarised a number of objections to the proposed development:

  • damage to the vitality and viability of the town centre
  • lack of a demonstrated need for the supermarket
  • poor use of an allocated employment site when there were other uses that would generate more skilled, better paid jobs than the current proposal
  • traffic safety issues
  • the hydro electric power station was greenwash and would also damage the recovering river Colden’s ecosystem.

She had also intended to say that the planning application goes against Calderdale MBC’s Incredible Edible and Community Food Growing Policy, but didn’t have time.

Councillor Battye urges Planning Committee to accept application

Councillor Janet Battye [speaking as ward councillor?] focused on Hebden Bridge’s need for a hotel, the benefits from the school parking and the potential for the supermarket car park to act as a “natural park and ride” for Hebden Bridge.

She claimed that benefits of the hotel would outweigh the supermarket’s negative impact on town centre businesses, in that the hotel would bring increased footfall and spending power from overnight stay visitors to the town. It would also help the new Hebden Bridge Town Hall to establish the town as a venue for conferences and events.

The planning officer repeated the recommendation that the application be refused and said it was open to the applicants to resubmit with a full retail impact assessment.

A vote was taken and was in favour of deferral.

Apparently the main difference between a decision to defer and a decision to refuse is that  if the planning application had been refused, the developers would have been able to resubmit without charges once they had completed the retail impact study. As the decision was to defer, the developers can resubmit after the study and resubmit again after amendments without incurring charges.

Updated 7 Dec with additional information about likely timescale for submitting retail impact assessment.