Cook planning enquiry ends

Council opposition to proposals for a new eco village has been described as “desperate” and “flawed” at an inquiry this week.

Entrepreneur Howard Cook is expected to find out later this year whether his appeal to build new homes has been successful, after the inquiry into his plans came to a close last Friday.

The inquiry follows an appeal by Mr Cook, whose planning application for the project was turned down by Kirklees Council’s planning department earlier this year. It attracted opposition locally. Residents spoke against it at the planning meeting and subsequent inquiry.

Mr Cook, who owns Ponderosa Park in Heckmondwike, said previously at the inquiry that he faced financial problems should the appeal not be successful. David Manley QC, for Mr Cook, said the knock-on effects on Ponderosa would be devastating.

“Nobody in their right minds doubts that the Therapy Centre at Ponderosa does work of incalculable social and human value,” he said. To visit the centre and see what has been achieved is quite simply humbling. But the evidence is clear – if this appeal fails then the banks will foreclose, and the overwhelming likelihood is that the centre will close.”

Mr Manley attacked evidence used by the council – provided by a chartered landscape architect – that the planned building work would be detrimental to the landscape, as the area was not of high enough importance.

He said: “Clearly [the landscape] has local value and that is not disputed, but to ascribe a high value to it was no more than assertion born of utter desperation and based upon a flawed understanding.”

A report will now be compiled by Brendan Lyons for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to make a final decision on whether or not the project gets the go-ahead.

Speaking for Kirklees Council, Anthony Gill said: “The council does not agree that the medium term security of Ponderosa Park is of sufficient weight in the balance of very special circumstances.”

Mr Cook told the inquiry last month that he had spent £1.35m on planning for the project, which would include a 50-bed care home and 145 one and two-bedroom homes for the elderly.

The inquiry report is expected to be submitted to the Secretary of State by the end of September, who will give his ruling later in the year.