By Andy Hirst, Special Correspondent
The decision to allow a restaurant and bedrooms on top of Castle Hill could set a dangerous precedent for other ancient monument sites, it is claimed.
Huddersfield Civic Society had battled against a planning application for the development – which will also include a visitors’ centre with toilets – and had asked for the plan to be decided on by the Government after it was passed by Kirklees councillors last October … but the Government has refused to get involved.
This means the application will now go ahead unless it is vetoed at the 11th hour by Historic England – the commission which oversees historic buildings and scheduled monuments in England – by refusing to give consent for the development.
Huddersfield Civic Society (HCS) will continue to lobby Historic England to refuse that consent and it’s thought that Historic England may not come to a decision for three months or so.
The society’s call-in hopes were dashed in a letter to Kirklees Council on behalf of Housing, Communities and Local Government minister Robert Jenrick which states: “The Secretary of State has decided not to call in this application. He is content that it should be determined by the local planning authority.”
But HCS believes this is setting a dangerous precedent as one of the reasons the minister would call-in an application and make a decision on it was if it “could have significant effects beyond their immediate locality.”
HCS believes this is the case and fears that if the Castle Hill development is allowed, other ancient monuments could be at risk with the Government refusing to look at these often highly controversial applications and leaving the decision to local councils instead.
HCS secretary Martin Kilburn said: “There remains significant concern that approval of the Castle Hill development establishes a precedent which will mean any local authority can approve a major development within the green belt and curtilage of both listed and scheduled monuments anywhere in the country.
“When this is coupled with a size of development which is accepted as being far greater than that needed simply in order to provide private funding of required public facilities, we struggle to understand why this does not fall within the identified remit of the Secretary of State.
“This is why HCS is both deeply disappointed and troubled by the decision of Robert Jenrick’s department not to call-in the planning decision on Castle Hill.
“Our call-in was based on a desire by the society and many residents of Kirklees to avoid wholly inappropriate development on one of the most important green belt locations in Kirklees and to protect one of the north of England’s most important heritage sites.
Current national policy has specific provisions to protect such sites which last October’s planning decision failed to apply appropriately.
“Declining our call-in request flies in the face of current and proposed planning policy stated to provide protection for the green belt and protection for environmental and heritage assets – to include continuing to protect our treasured countryside and historic places.
“The grounds given for the decision are based on the contention that the Government is committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.
“This decision appears to us to give tacit approval for wholesale breaches of national green belt policy.”
Mr Kilburn added: “Despite the lack of call-in request, the development still cannot go ahead without Scheduled Monument Consent from Historic England. The level of our concerns regarding the proposed development are such that we will continue to lobby Historic England.”
The history of Castle Hill stretches back 4,000 years. It began as an Iron Age hill fort before becoming a Norman castle and then a medieval hunting lodge. Grade-II listed Victoria Tower – built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 and finished in 1899 – is in green belt and can be seen for miles. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) in recognition of the range and variety of its flora and fauna.
* Written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content ANDY HIRST who now runs his own Huddersfield-based agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting for business in Yorkshire and across the UK.