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Council accused of 'cheating' over green belt decision

Expansion: Former councillor John Wade would like to see new homes in his home village of Oxspring
Expansion: Former councillor John Wade would like to see new homes in his home village of Oxspring
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A planning inspector is to investigate complaints that a developer was “cheated” in an assessment of green belt land which prevented a site promoted for housing from even being considered by planners.

Barnsley Council used external consultants Arup to ‘score’ potential development sites across the town as it began the search for new housing sites and land provisionally known as Oxspring Fields, being promoted by Harrogate based developers Yorkshire Land, missed the threshold by one point.

However, the company insist there were two mistakes within the scoring calculation, which would have put the land into a position where the council should have carried out further investigative work about its potential to become a council-backed site.

Stephen Green, who owns Yorkshire Land, has been fighting to get the site – which could accommodate around 150 houses – included in Barnsley Council’s list of sites earmarked for development in the next two decades, but planners have resisted his arguments.

However Mr Green has now told a Government planning inspector, who must sign off the council’s blueprint as ‘sound’ before it can become policy, that there were two errors which led to the site being excluded from consideration.

One was a simple miscalculation and the other a flawed decision, with a score being allocated which failed to reflect the circumstances of the site, with either capable of pushing the overall score into the category where it should have been considered – something which never happened.

Hearings are now taking place to hear evidence and observations from those involved in the process and Mr Green told the Inspector: “We have been cheated because our site has not been taken properly through the process.

“It seems very unfair, the council is trying to wriggle out. I cannot see how the council can say the process has been fair,” he said.

The council’s head of planning, Joe Jenkinson, said Arup had confirmed there had been a miscalculation, but not one that affected the overall score and added: “I have some sympathy over the scoring confusion. We went back to Arup. They defend their impartiality.

“There is an error, not in respect of the total, it is in a sub category where they used the wrong number.”

Planning Inspector Sarah Housden has now offered to look at the full circumstances of the way the Oxspring Fields site was handled outside the current hearings.

She will consider evidence which has been presented and report back later in the year as to whether she finds the council’s proposals acceptable.

Oxspring resident and former councillor John Wade also spoke at the meeting to support the idea of a large scale housing development which, he said, would bring the ‘affordable homes’ much needed by younger people who struggle to find homes in the village.

They were unlikely to be provided through smaller developments because there was no obligation on developers to factor them into plans on sites with fewer than 15 new homes.

Barnsley Council has already had to rethink its figures for the document, called the Local Plan, which sets out the land which will be available for both new housing and job creation until 2033.

She believes the council’s original calculations would have not provided enough housing for people who will take up the jobs they expect to be created and also asked planners to find more sites in village locations, which had been excluded from major development plans in earlier versions of the council’s documents.

Barnsley Council is working towards the Local Plan being finalised later this year with the expectation of it being formally adopted in early 2019.