Residents have accused a local authority of showing preferential treatment towards an aristocrat’s plan to build a housing estate on a medieval pasture with links to historic horseracing.
North Yorkshire Council’s planning department is facing the claims from numerous Richmond residents 18 months after a proposal was lodged by the fourth Marquess of Zetland’s firm Zetland Estates to develop 30 homes on a greenfield site in open countryside beside heritage assets.
The proposed 4.6-acre site, off Hurgill Road and Westfileds Road to the west of Richmond, has historical links to Richmond Racecourse and stables which were managed by a succession of famous and illustrious racing trainers.
The site was part of West Field, one of the three former open fields of medieval Richmond, until the land was enclosed in 1803, and is viewed as key to the setting of Richmond Conservation Area, particularly as it can be seen from Richmond Castle’s keep.
In its planning application, agents for Zetland Estates said it understood “there are tensions and divides regarding the site” as “disrupting the status quo
is not always viewed favourably”.
The papers state: “By raising the standard of design, this scheme has the ability to transform the lives of many, contribute positively to the local community and provide a transition to energy efficient building practices on a larger scale, a key requirement if we are to simultaneously meet housing demand and climate goals.
“We do hope the community can get behind this, rather than fight it, after all, we are continuing a pattern of development that our collective ancestors started at the bottom or Hurgill and Westfields 100 years ago. None of us
would have the privilege living in these areas had they not.”
However, the plan has been met with overwhelming opposition from residents, including a petition of more than 2,000 signatures and hundreds of letters of objection.
Objectors have highlighted the project’s likely impacts on “Richmond’s unique charm, which lies in its unique blend of history, landscape and community”, the nearby Coast to Coast National Trail, local services and infrastructure.
Richmond Town Council said it could “see no merit in this application whatsoever” and highlighted how the area’s sewage system was already unable to cope with some 115 raw sewage dumps in the River Swale.
Initially, the council’s archaeologist raised no objections to the plans, but after being presented with a heritage report by campaigners, agreed the development would harm the area’s heritage.
Richmond councillor Stuart Parsons said a sufficient number of houses had already been built to meet building targets in the town and that the site was of “obvious heritage importance”.
Following a decision over the plans being repeatedly postponed, residents have claimed Zetland Estates have been given more time to develop arguments against public objections, saying the planning process “feels very arbitrary and unfair”.
One resident wrote: “In the face of such confusion it is difficult to maintain any confidence in the process.”
Another objector stated: “It is very hard to comprehend how so much flexibility and accommodation is being afforded to the applicant and scant regard for the people of our locality and town who are overwhelmingly opposed to this housing estate.”
When asked if the council believed there had been any issues with its handling of the proposal, its assistant director for planning, Trevor Watson, said: “This application will be considered by the area planning committee in accordance with the council’s scheme of delegation where members of the committee will be presented with an impartial report addressing all material considerations.”