Prepared by Alan Elsegood, Hon Secretary, WARD
If ever there was a catalogue of misinformation, denial of consultation, refusal to examine evidence and inaccurate reportage, the experience of the village of Menston at the hands of Bradford Council must be a prime example.
- There’s never been a full dialogue or consultation exercise. The so-called “public consultation” (22 July 2010) was in fact a sales exhibition by the developers and their agents. The Planning Officers of Bradford Council have never in 4 years taken the time to set out the full plans in any genuine consultation or dialogue with residents.
- The Communities Minister (Greg Clark) told residents (9 July 2010) that “localism is the way forward, and Menston should hold a Local Referendum” to evidence its collective opinion. A Local Referendum was held. Bradford Council arranged it for a weekday working-day but, despite that, 1,790 of Menston’s 3,731 registered electors turned out to vote and 1,760 (98.4%) voted against large-scale development. The Council said it “wasn’t obliged to take account” of the Referendum.
- To add insult to injury, Bradford Council charged Menston Parish Council over £4,000 for administering the Referendum.
- Menston residents sent in over 1,200 letters and emails of objection to the development plans: Bradford’s Planning Dept. dumped them all in cardboard boxes. None were acknowledged, some were stamped and processed, others seemingly not.
- The Planning Dept. mis-counted these representations and understated the numbers. In their report, Bradford’s Planning Officers simply reduced all these objections to 20 bullet-points – such as “Non-compliance with policy” and “Risk of flooding” – which they didn’t attempt to clarify.
- As a result of Bradford Council’s failure to register or analyse these letters of objection, we had to do it ourselves: 32% of the objections related to “flooding and drainage” yet at the Planning Panel, Bradford’s Drainage Officer said “Menston doesn’t have a problem with flooding or drainage”. He changed his mind when he saw the video evidence!
- Section 106 Agreements were proposed, many elements of which are irrelevant to Menston and others totally impractical, like increasing the space for parking at Menston Station – and if they aren’t implemented, the developer gets back the money, supposedly to mitigate the impact on the community, which Bradford Council won’t have spent!
- The Council had to cancel the first Planning Panel in September 2011 because it had wrongly claimed to have had evidence from the Environment Agency, so the statutory consultation was inadequate. The 200 people who had turned up to participate were turned away.
- The next time there was to be a public meeting at Kirklands Community Centre, residents were told that numbers had to be restricted to 120, for “health and safety reasons”. Or was it simply to inhibit opposition?
- When Menston’s representatives pointed out that Housing Policies H1 and H2 had lapsed long ago, and there was no authority in place for the allocation of housing on these sites, Bradford MDC simply held an Executive Meeting and voted that “any future Planning Panel should give consideration to it having been the Council’s intention that these sites should be developed”. They made their own rules up!
- At the second Planning Panel (Regulatory & Advisory Committee) in April 2013, the Planning Officer mumbled through presentation of his report, so that nobody could hear or understand it. The Committee of Councillors were not given the evidence about flooding and drainage.
- One of the Councillors gave Bradford’s Drainage Officer a ‘hard time’ as she’d seen flooding occur despite reassurances on previous occasions. She and other Councillors said they couldn’t decide without having seen the evidence. The Council’s solicitor said they wouldn’t understand it! So, they never did get to examine the expert evidence.
- At that meeting in April 2013, the Council Solicitor said that members of the panel could request sight of the evidence and, if they weren’t fully satisfied, they could defer their decision or vote to reject the plans pending detailed consideration. The developer’s agent said that if they did that, there could be implications as the developer would seek costs from the Council. A clear threat, as one of the Councillors observed.
- The Councillors and Officers went on a ‘site visit’. During a 2-hour trip to Menston, they only saw the sites from a distance and never got off the bus! How is that a site visit?
- Something must have been said on that bus, because on return to the Council Chamber, there was no further discussion, and even those who had demanded the evidence voted without seeing it. The vote was, as all the others have been, strictly on party lines: 4 Labour Councillors in favour of development and 3 Conservatives opposed.
- To this day, the Sirius Report on groundwater and flooding from water coming off Rombalds Moor has never been ventilated by the Officers nor examined by the Councillors. The expert evidence of flood risk, paid for by Menston residents, has not been seen by or disclosed to Councillors.
- There was a Public Inquiry scheduled for two working days after the Regulatory & Advisory Committee, at which Menston’s representatives would get to present their evidence to an independent Inspector. On the very morning of that Public Inquiry, Bradford Council and the developers announced a deal about the wording of the drainage conditions, and said there was no dispute now between the parties. The Inspector then closed the Public Inquiry without even having opened it. So, Menston was denied the opportunity to present its evidence to someone who could consider it independently.
- The minutes of all these meetings have never been an accurate record of what was said or what actually took place. They are a distortion.
- At the latest Regulatory & Advisory Committee, Bradford Council were due to present an amended version of the Planning Condition designed to minimise flood risk. This amendment, requested by the developer, was obviously advanced to make it easier or less costly to construct the housing and the infrastructure. The text of this was changed only hours before the meeting and, had Menston’s representatives not become aware of this (posted online at 8:55 on the morning of the meeting), it might have slipped through without scrutiny. In the event, however, the Chairman of the Committee refused to let Menston’s flooding expert speak, and the Planning Officers said they would recommend it. So, the Committee passed it – 4 votes to 3, of course! – and this allows more water to flow into Menston’s Victorian drainage system, which can’t cope NOW, let alone with another 309 properties to accommodate.
Menston has been treated shabbily. Our protests and objections have simply been ignored or sidelined. Where objections and complaints have been put through formal procedures, the responses have been disingenuous. Even a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman was set aside because BMDC said, falsely, that it had been dealt with through internal procedures.
Where do you go when every legitimate avenue is blocked. Even a senior Minister of the Government, speaking in Menston, said he was in favour of building on brownfield sites first and Green Belt only as a last resort, but then he made statements to the media encouraging Councils to increase their building programmes to stimulate the economy. It seems the only scope for getting matters looked at independently is through the Courts, so that’s what Menston’s advisors are currently taking legal guidance on.
Beware, small communities, that you’ll get picked-off. Few communities will be able to raise the £100,000 (and more) that Menston has raised to fight for its village environment. Communities MUST come together and coalesce into larger units to prevent the loss of their amenity and identity against this exaggerated statement of Housing Need. For communities in Wharfedale and Airedale, and generally in Yorkshire, that’s what WARD is about, and if we can help with advice, contacts and support, we’ll be delighted to receive your enquiries.
Alan D Elsegood
Hon. Secretary, WARD