“Lessons to be learned”

RESIDENTS have demanded “lessons be learned” after controversial housing plans had to be deferred because the right officers weren’t available to answer councillor’s flooding concerns.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s planning committee met to hear several applications, including plans for new housing estates at Tunstall Farm, off Valley Drive, for 110 houses and another estate at nearby Quarry Farm, off Elwick Road, for 81 houses.

Inside Hartlepool Borough Council's planning committee meeting

Inside Hartlepool Borough Council's planning committee meeting

Both applications were recommended for approval but it never got to that stage because when councillors raised concerns over flooding issues in Valley Drive – an hour into the discussion – it turned out there was nobody available from the council to answer the questions because the relevant engineer was on a pre-planned holiday.

Crucially, the Environment Agency (EA), who had submitted a report with no objections, had not sent a representative to the meeting which meant councillors couldn’t have their questions answered.

Labour councillor Rob Cook, who chairs the committee, had to apologise to the developers and residents who attended, adding the EA were under no obligation to send a representative to the council meeting.

Taylor Wimpey had lodged the plans for Tunstall Farm and there had been 171 objections from residents ahead of the meeting.

Jim Ferguson, the council’s planning team leader, presented the report and said there was “no reasonable objections” the council could make to the plans.

Committee members then started raising various issues around the impact on the road network and also historical flooding concerns in that area.

Coun Payne said he was surprised an environmental impact study hadn’t been carried out – which officers said was due to the size of the development – but Coun Payne then raised flooding concerns based on the council’s own surface water management plan for that area.

After it was confirmed the relevant council engineer was on holiday, Damien Wilson, the council’s assistant director of regeneration, said the statutory agencies hadn’t raised any concerns themselves.

But Coun Payne said: “I don’t believe any member can make an informed decision without the full facts.”

Labour councillor Marjorie James added: “It would have been really helpful if somebody was here from the Environment Agency.”

Coun Cook added: “We cannot force these people to come, I wish we could because we wouldn’t have had this problem.

“I am recommending we defer this decision until we get sufficient information from all concerned to alleviate the concerns that have been made.”

The second application – which had received 221 objections – was for 81 homes on land at Quarry Farm but Conservative group leader Ray Martin-Wells said the issues were very similar and moved to defer that as well.

Coun Cook said: “Considering the circumstances I am going to have to agree rather than get into another hour-long discussion.

“My apologies to the applicants and the members of the public who have come here.”

Speaking afterwards, Fran Johnson, chair of Park Residents’ Association, said: “There is a need to ensure that there are robust investigations into all the concerns raised and that they are substantiated, especially around flooding.

“As objectors, we can be challenged as can the developers and land owners but the outside agencies cannot.

“Let’s hope lessons are learned from this meeting.”