Applicants threaten legal action over councillor’s involvement in Hawes church planning decision

Hawes Methodist Church before its closure.

A Dales county councillor has rejected accusations of bias over a controversial planning application in Hawes.

The applicants behind plans to convert Hawes Methodist Church into holiday accommodation have threatened legal action if Cllr John Blackie is allowed to take part in next week’s meeting to decide the application.

An application has been submitted to Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) to create three apartments and two cottages for holiday from the former church.

The scheme was discussed at last month’s meeting, with a decision deferred for a site visit.

In two letters to YDNPA chief executive David Butterworth, the agents, Leeds-based Bowcliffe, accuse Cllr Blackie of being biased against the application because he runs an existing holiday cottage company in the Dales.

They have also complained about his behaviour at the site visit, where they say he broke the code of conduct by using the visit as an opportunity to lobby against the plans.

Both allegations have been strongly rejected by the councillor.

The letters of complaint from Bowlcliffe head of planning Rachel Ford state: “My client’s application for three apartments and two cottages for holiday lets will have a direct impact on Mr Blackie’s business interests – he stands to lose out if the application is granted consent.

“Whilst the council may well view the introduction of more competition into the holiday let market and the provision of further accommodation for those spending money in the local economy as a positive, it is plain from his behaviour that Councillor Blackie sees my client’s application as a threat to his business.”

It continues: “If councillor Blackie proceeds to vote on the application at the forthcoming planning committee, to vote against the proposal and if his vote turns out to be decisive, then my clients will have no option but to explore potential legal claims against the council.

I strongly suggest that Councillor Blackie plays no further role in the decision making process for my client’s application.”

Cllr John Blackie.

But Cllr Blackie has dismissed the claim of bias and said he would be attending next week’s planning committee meeting with an open mind and would be speaking on the application.

He described the letters as a “naked attempt by the applicants / their planning agent to fix the jury to secure the outcome they seek”.

He added: “I have always been advised over the years by Clare Bevan and other legal officers at the YDNPA that owning or operating holiday cottages does not present me with a conflict of interest when deciding planning applications for holiday cottages at the planning committee unless I had a financial interest in the development site in which case it would be a prejudicial interest.”

Cllr Blackie said YDNPA received a similar complaint from the former owners of the Honeycott Caravan Site in Hawes around a decade ago after they received the result of a planning inspectorate appeal refusing an application to develop the site with forest lodges.

“There was a full investigation, including an interview under caution in the SBE Offices in Manchester, and I was completely exonerated,” he said.

The councilor added that the YDNPA site visit protocol makes clear the local county councillor and the local district councillor should be given opportunity to express their preliminary views.

“I was entitled to express these views when invited to do so by the chairman of the site visit,” he said, adding: “If I give way to their spurious, unsubstantiated and false arguments, and remove myself from the planning committee on Tuesday when I have done nothing wrong, then it will create an unwelcome precedent that others in the future will seek to replicate.”

The application will e discussed at a planning committee meeting at 1pm on Tuesday, March 12 at the YDNPA offices at Bainbridge.