The future of key housing sites across the district has been thrown into doubt after a blunder effectively left Bradford Council without any land earmarked to meet housing needs.
Fears are growing that the technicality could lead to an influx of legal challenges to the authority, particularly over planning bids at controversial sites, such as Sty Lane, at Micklethwaite, near Bingley, and Derry Hill and Bingley Road at Menston. And any judicial reviews called as a result of the mistake could be extremely costly to the Council.
Campaigners from one group fighting to prevent the development of up to 440 homes at Sty Lane now hope to use the admission from the Council as a key argument in their bid to stop planning permission being granted on appeal.
Terry Brown, chairman of Greenhill Action Group, told the Telegraph & Argus: “Whether the site has been actually allocated for housing or not will have a big impact on any appeal.
“If there is no presumption for housing, it will help our case against planning permission being granted.”
It appears that after almost 300 sites were allocated for housing in the Replacement Unitary Development plan in 2005 there was an omission by the Council at its review three years ago and major housing sites were not properly protected in paperwork ratified by the Government.
The Council’s chief executive Tony Reeves said: “This is an error based on legal advice given at the time which has since been questioned. Planners are working hard to ensure that the status of previously-allocated housing sites is clarified. Our primary concern is to ensure that all our policies are robust.
“This is a genuine mistake with unintended consequences but I am sure that our planning service can soon ensure that everything is in order.”
A special meeting of the Council’s decision-making executive will be held a week today at which senior councillors will be asked to back a resolution which it is hoped will clarify the issue.
The issue was due to be added to Friday’s executive agenda at short notice but the move was blocked by Tory group leader Glen Miller. Council leader Ian Greenwood (Lab, Little Horton) accused Coun Miller of behaving “like a baby throwing a dummy out of his pram”.
He said: “Every time we turn over a stone from the Conservative administration we find another mistake or error which is down to their incompetent leadership of the Council. This clearly needs dealing with as soon as possible “It’s particularly ironic that this relates to a period when the Conservatives were in control. It demonstrates yet again their total hypocrisy in respect of their leadership of the Council.”
Coun Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said she was concerned by the refusal of the Tories to allow the executive to take a decision as a matter of urgency.
She said: “I am extremely concerned that this will leave the Council in a vulnerable position in relation to a number of sites including the appeal at Sty Lane, Derry Hill and Bingley Road, and other applications in the pipeline or delayed while Section 106 agreements are being organised. The delay could potentially lead to judicial review of decisions and considerable cost to the Council.”
Coun Miller said: “This leaves the Council open to legal challenge and it appears that this has already happened in relation to one site.
“Whilst it is clear that the Council was intent on transferring land allocations across from the old policy to the new, it did not happen in accordance with the proper practice and in theory the Council currently has no major allocated housing sites. There is no land legitimately allocated to meet future housing demand.”
He said his group opposed the matter going straight to Friday’s executive as it required proper scrutiny, saying it was “a very serious mistake on the part of the planning department”.
But Coun Greenwood confirmed to the T&A that the matter would not be going to a scrutiny panel first under emergency powers, given the urgent nature of the decision required