A trio of major housing schemes set to bring 1,500 more homes to Harborough were all approved during a marathon planning meeting on Monday night.
Harborough District Council’s planning committee approved plans for 924 houses at Airfield Farm off Leicester Road, 119 houses north of Lubenham Hill and 450 houses on land west of Leicester Road.
The three schemes together will increase the town’s population by 3,600 people, or about a sixth.
The extraordinary planning meeting at Harborough Market lasted nearly five-and-a-half hours.
The church bells were tolling midnight as councillors filed out of the building.
The meeting started at 6.30pm in the indoor market hall, which was filled with about 250 people, mostly members of the public.
First up was the Airfield Farm plan, the biggest of the three developments.
As well as 924 homes, it will bring a centre with shops, healthcare and community facilities, a primary school, a marina with hotel and open space including a country park, a sports fields and allotments.
Town resident Austin Kinsella was among many arguing that 1,500 houses was an “over-development” of the town.
“As anyone knows who lives in Market Harborough, the town is terribly congested already,” he told the meeting.
The council’s Liberal Democrat opposition leader Cllr Phil Knowles said the council should give planning permission for just 1,000 of the 1,500 homes.
He said he was worried that large swathes of fields would disappear “under bricks, mortar and concrete”.
For some speakers the sticking point for the main Airfield Farm scheme was the proposed new access bridge across the Grand Union Canal, which would involve the demolition of a 92-year-old footbridge and about 40 mature trees.
Lawrie Gatehouse, a spokesman for The Woodlands Action Group, said the proposed bridge was a mistake on both safety and environmental grounds.
He said the council should have intervened decisively to move the access bridge north, away from existing development, on to land owned by the Market Harborough and the Bowdens charity.
Carl Bedford, a trustee of the Old Union Canals Society, agreed the bridge should be moved north. He said the new bridge was contrary to the council’s policy of protecting conservation areas, particularly as an alternative is available.
Even the Tory-run council’s own leader Blake Pain, who is not on the planning committee, asked if the developers could be told to cost out an alternative bridge site.
But John Coleman, of developers William Davis, said the new bridge provided “optimum linkage to the town centre”.
He said the charity’s interest in selling land for the bridge had come in too late in the day to formulate a properly-costed plan.
District council planning officer Nicola Parry had already said council officers believed objections to the scheme were outweighed by the public benefits.
And county council highways authority representative Dominic Young said the increase in traffic in the nearby villages of Lubenham and Great Bowden were “not severe enough to warrant refusal of the application”.
A proposal by Cllr Barbara Johnson that outline planning permission for the scheme be deferred to investigate an alternative site for the bridge was voted down.
Councillors gave outline planning permission for the 924-house scheme by seven votes to three.
After a short break, the next scheme to be discussed was the 119-house Linden Homes development on land north of Lubenham Hill.
The scheme includes some public open space and a roundabout junction onto the A4304 Lubenham Hill road.
This scheme is further on than the other two – this was a full planning application.
Again, council planning officer Nicola Parry said officers felt benefits of the plan outweighed any adverse effects and recommended approval.
This time a series of objectors said they were against the whole Linden Homes scheme, not just an aspect of it.
Resident John Martin argued the site was “over-development of open countryside” outside the council’s strategic development area.
Resident David Leach said the roundabout link to the A4304 was dangerous because it was on the brow of a hill.
Representatives from Lubenham Parish Council agreed, and were also worried about increased traffic through their village.
And Sacha Richardson said: “I would strongly urge the planning committee to defer this. We owe it to future generations to get this right.”
But Peter Wilkinson, the agent for Linden Homes, told the meeting the scheme provided good housing and was in accordance with the council’s masterplan.
He said an upgraded hedge would screen the development from nearby Lubenham.
The scheme was approved by eight votes to two.
By now it was 11pm, and there were fewer than 50 people left in the now cold Market Hall – including the councillors and council officials.
But the planning committee voted to press ahead with the third application – a plan to build 45o homes at Manor Farm, on land west of Leicester Road.
The scheme includes a centre which could potentially consist of a shop, a pub and community facilities, and public open space, including sports pitches.
All potential objectors had left except one – Paul Claxton from Great Bowden Parish Council.
He again urged councillors to think of traffic problems for his village, and to have a “no right-turn” sign to prevent traffic going down Leicester Lane into Great Bowden.
Gary Lees, speaking for Davidsons Developments Ltd, said this scheme was “high quality, low density” and would “complete this three-piece jigsaw”.
And Cllr Phil King pointed out that the three schemes together would bring £20million of public benefit, including schools, community facilities and open space.
The third scheme was approved by nine votes to one.