The chances of a new 2,000-home estate being built on the southern edge of Market Harborough have been virtually wiped out for the foreseeable future, it’s emerged this afternoon.
Furious councillors, villagers and conservation leaders have been battling to “kill off the monster” mini-town being built on rolling farmland between Market Harborough and East Farndon.
And there has now been a dramatic new twist in the tale as West Northamptonshire Council has backed off from driving through any new developments on that site for years to come.
The crucial new breakthrough is being hailed by fuming Harborough District Council opposition leader Cllr Phil Knowles, parish councillors in East Farndon and outraged local residents.
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But they are now all calling on Harborough council as well to “rule out” building on the agricultural land linking the two communities to meet their housing needs.
The latest episode in a story which has gripped both sides of the Leicestershire-Northamptonshire border has surfaced after West Northants council planning chief Richard Wood wrote to East Farndon Parish Council in a bid to calm the growing storm.
“Whilst the Spatial Options Consultation document includes a short section on land to the south of Market Harborough, I want to make it clear that West Northamptonshire Council is not proposing the land as a potential spatial option for allocation in the West Northamptonshire Strategic Plan.
“If that was the case then in line with the other options presented in the document, we would have included a site plan, a longer assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the site, and most importantly a specific consultation question relating to the site,” writes Mr Wood, the new authority’s Interim Head of Planning and Climate Change Policy.
“The allocation of land for development is a matter for the Strategic Plan and West Northamptonshire Council are not proposing the allocation of land to the south of Market Harborough as part of the development strategy for West Northamptonshire.
“The only circumstance in which this position could change would be if Harborough District Council (HDC) were to approach us to request assistance in meeting the housing needs of their area.
“In order to do this HDC, having considered all the reasonable options available, would have to demonstrate that they couldn’t meet their needs within their boundary,” insists Mr Wood.
“Under provisions known as the ‘duty to cooperate’ we would be obliged to consider such a request but would not be obliged to accept. “HDC are in the early stages of updating their Local Plan and have not established whether there would be a need for land in this area to come forward to help meet their needs.
“As such we have not received any request from HDC to consider the allocation of land to meet any of their needs in West Northamptonshire.
“However, given that the Strategic Plan covers a period up to 2050 it was considered appropriate to acknowledge the potential for such circumstance to arise in the future,” concludes Mr Wood.
A West Northants Council spokesperson told the Harborough Mail: “The area in question is not proposed as a potential spatial option in our current consultation.
“But if at some point in the future, once all other options have been considered, Harborough District Council requires land in that area to help it meet housing needs, then the situation might change.
“This would, of course, be subject to public consultation.”
Today Cllr Bernie Fallon, of East Farndon council, told the Mail: “It is a relief to know that West Northants council has no interest in building on this land stretching away to Market Harborough for now.
“It is not never, it is just not now.
“But it did ring alarm bells here that Harborough council could still have the option of building new homes on this land if they wanted to.
“We would disappear as a village if this massive scheme went ahead and it would pile tremendous pressure on Market Harborough’s infrastructure,” said Cllr Fallon.
“So we now urgently need some clarity from Harborough council and its leader Phil King.
“We’d urge Cllr King to rule out building new homes on this site now so we all know where we stand.”
Cllr Phil Knowles, who is spearheading a campaign to block any new development after a firestorm blew up, said: “I’m just pleased that we have highlighted this very disturbing issue.
“We’ve had a massive reaction and over 600 people have already signed our petition demanding that any proposals to build here never get off the ground.
“I appreciate the clarification from West Northants council on this.
“But we have to know for sure that any initiative here is never resurrected,” said Cllr Knowles, who heads up the Liberal Democrat group on Harborough council.
“And I would also implore Phil King to guarantee that Harborough council will never seek to develop this beautiful open countryside between Market Harborough and East Farndon.
“Our infrastructure in Market Harborough is already falling apart as hundreds more homes are built and thousands more people move into the area around the clock.
“The quality of life for new people moving here as well as for residents already here is deteriorating all the time,” warned Cllr Knowles.
“So now it’s time for Cllr King to take this off the table so that we can kill off any chances of building over 2,000 new homes there once and for all.”
Peter Pollak, 76, the Harborough representative of the Open Spaces Society, the UK’s oldest national conservation group, said: “I am relieved to hear that West Northants council appear to ruling out building a new mini-town right on our doorsteps.
“Joining up Market Harborough all the way up to the historic village of East Farndon doesn’t bear thinking about.
“I now look forward to Harborough council spelling out their position on this extremely contentious issue as emotions run so high.”
Asked if he could totally discount bidding to build on the southern outskirts of Market Harborough, Harborough council chief Phil King told the Mail: “I cannot 100 per cent rule that out.
“I can’t ever rule that sort of thing out, it’s just not possible.
“But we’d only ever want to develop there if we had an unmet need for housing here in Harborough.
“And we are currently looking at 250 possible development sites across our own district,” insisted Cllr King.
“So I can’t imagine that we’d want to build in this area – which is outside our district - for the foreseeable future.
“And that means decades.
“I am not expecting to see this site coming up in our next Local Plan – which covers the period from 2021-2041.
“I do understand the serious concerns of local people and I welcome this new clarification regarding this land from West Northants council.”
Cllr Jonathan Bateman, Harborough council’s Cabinet lead for planning, said: “West Northamptonshire Council is currently consulting on its Strategic Plan Spatial Options.
“There is a long-standing requirement for Local Plans to cover at least 15 years, but there is a new requirement to consider visions for 30 years in the case of significant growth.
“Having up-to-date evidence about land with development potential is a requirement of the Strategic Plan process.
“This involves a ‘Call for Sites’ which invites landowners to submit sites for consideration for future development.”
He added: “West Northamptonshire has made us aware at an officer level of sites submitted under their ‘Call for Sites’ process that are close the Harborough District boundary as part of the ‘Duty to Cooperate’ for planning authorities.
“It’s important to note that submitting a site does not give it any planning status.”
You can make your voice heard on West Northants council’s strategic plan until 11.59pm on Monday December 6.
To find out more you should contact the authority’s strategic plan team at [email protected] or on 0300 126 1900 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday during the public consultation.