Ponderosa in peril

AN entrepreneur says he could lose everything on the verdict of a planning appeal.

Howard Cook, owner of Ponderosa Park, could have his home and businesses seized by the bank if the decision to deny his planning application for an eco-village in Norristhorpe is not overturned by a government inspector.

Giving evidence at the public inquiry on Wednesday, Mr Cook said he had been ‘led down the road’ by Kirklees Council in regards to his controversial plans to build a retirement community on land next to his park – some of which is in green belt. Turn to p5

Mr Cook’s second planning application – the first was refused in May 2011 - was turned down by Kirklees Council’s planning and highways committee in January after members ruled it was not an appropriate development for green belt land.

Council officers defended the decision at the opening of the six-day inquiry and said the special circumstances given for building on the green belt did not justify development.

Mr Cook told government inspector Brendon Lyons he had spent £1.35m on the planning process.

He said: “Throughout the whole planning process I have been honest with Kirklees Council and been reassured the application would be approved.

“If the planning application fails, the banks have clearly stated that they will have no other option than to call in their debt.

“This will result in the closure of Ponderosa Park, including the therapeutic centre, the visitor centre and Ponderosa business park.

“As my house is also part of the land owned by the banks, I will also lose my family’s home.”

People living nearby have been fighting the plans.

Yesterday, members of the public gave their views on the retirement community proposal, which will include a 50-bed care home and 145 one and two-bedroom homes.

Speaking on behalf of Batley and Spen MP Mike Wood, Terry Tordoff said: “For this application to be successful special circumstances have to be produced. They have none.

“What we have listened to is a mixture of vague aspirations and evidence of dubious financial planning.”

Lisa Drake, of Save Norristhorpe Green Belt, said more than 300 residents and two ward councillors objected to the plans when they were first proposed.

She said: “The land proposed for development is steeped in wildlife. It is used by all generations of the community.”

Other Norristhorpe residents also said the countryside should be protected and argued that the view of the valley from Lodge Lane, Norristhorpe, would be spoilt by the retirement community.

The appeal is scheduled to end next Tuesday. A decision is expected after September.

Visit our website, www.spenboroughguardian.co.uk for further updates.