Planners refuse eco homes bid

Proposed Ponderosa development in Heckmondwike
Proposed Ponderosa development in Heckmondwike

Plans for an eco-retirement community on green belt land have been rejected.

The proposed scheme by developer and Ponderosa owner Howard Cook was turned down by Kirklees Council’s Planning and Highways Committee during a contentious two-hour debate yesterday.

Councillors were split 50-50 and committee chairman Coun Christine Smith (Con, Kirkburton) had the casting vote.

Under the plans, an 145-unit eco-village including a retirement home would have been built on the land near the Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre off Smithies Lane, Heckmondwike.

The decision brings an end to a three-year wrangle over the plans, which were opposed by campaigners in Norristhorpe.

After hearing the decision, campaigner Lisa Drake said: “This is a victory for the community against overwhelming odds. This has been David taking on Goliath – and David has won.”

However, the decision comes as a blow for those counting on the development to provide up to 500 jobs and apprenticeships for young people.

The refusal might also have repercussions for the Dewsbury Domes and Able 2 projects, the success of which would have been boosted by the Ponderosa plan, according to developers.

The plans would have improved access to the two sites and included the construction of a £1m bridge crossing the River Spen.

Ultimately the debate came down to the green belt land issue.

Under planning policy, use of green belt is allowed only when the benefits outweigh the harm. There would have to be ‘very special circumstance’ to allow it to go ahead.

Mr Cook and his agents, Robert Halstead and Dave Storrie, argued that there were five reasons why plans should be agreed.

“There are wider regeneration benefits,” Mr Storrie told the meeting.

“The Dewsbury ward has a 51.1 per cent unemployment rate and this scheme would address that problem, especially amongst the young people.

“I accept it is a difficult decision but the benefits are significant and I think that tips the balance in favour of it.”

Members of the committee were split, with Labour councillors supporting the plans and Conservative and Lib Dem members against. There was one abstention.

Mr Cook attended the meeting but was unavailable for comment as we went to press.