ISSUES over the development of a wildlife area in Hellifield are not yet resolved, members of a campaign group have said.

In September an independent barrister decided that work on Hellifield Flashes did not go against planning permission already granted, following several months of investigation.

Harriet Townsend of Cornerstones Barristers, admitted she had been unable to visit the site as the inspection date was March 23, the date of lockdown. However, she reviewed documents spanning more than 20 years and concluded “The view taken by the Council (that as yet there is no breach of planning control to enforce against) appears to me to be lawful.”

She did state, however, that a ‘procedural error’ by the council led to the outline approval in 2003.

Excavation work began in May last year on the site.

Permission to develop a complex including a hotel and rural regeneration centre was granted, first as an outline application in 2003 and the reserved matters in 2005. But work only began after a subsequent application for a larger complex to the south of the site was refused last year.

Locals have expressed dismay claiming unauthorised work to the flash has permanently damaged the breeding and feeding grounds for birds but Mrs Townsend, after scrutinising the plans, said any hope of legal action was ‘vanishingly small’.

A special online planning meeting to discover the advice given was held on Monday to discuss the officer’s report which Mrs Townsend attended and answered a number of representations raised by members of the public and interested parties.

Speakers at the meeting included Councillors Chris Moorby, ward councillor for Long Preston and Hellifield, Andy Brown and Richard Welch. One of the groups which raised representations was Save Our Craven Countryside, based in Hellifield. Member Roger Haffield said:” The issues are not resolved yet.”

Mr Haffield added: “The Barrister answered the selective points that CDC had asked (the barrister) to look at and in that respect gave her considered opinions in regard to law,

“It was clear that she had not had sight of all documents associated with planning issues, but spoke well and fairly.”

“Councillors Moorby, Welch and Brown are to be commended for their comments on the waste dumping issues and their condemnation of the destruction on this decimated wildlife haven.

“The barrister was clear, the responsibility of enforcement rests entirely with CDC and we are confident that the proof of failing to comply with planning conditions, which is evident in the planning documents, will bring justice for those who believe the importance of protecting Craven’s special wildlife sites outweighs those of speculative development.”

Craven District Council planning manager Neville Watson said the report brought to the meeting set out the planning history and the enforcement issues associated with that.

“This is a very unusual case and an unusual site. The permissions date from some considerable time ago and what is quite unusual is that we have investigated it and clearly have taken the view that implementation of those permissions has indeed been carried out.

“What hasn’t happened is ultimately the completion of the development.

“What I would like to reassure members this afternoon is that with respect to the Hellifield flashes and the development to the north of Hellifield the council will consider monitoring the development and shall not hesitate to take enforcement action if expedient and appropriate.”

Mrs Townsend outlined the job she was asked to do which was whether the 2003consent or the approval of reserved matters in 2005 should have been subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or so whether that 2003 consent was implemented.

“I was asked to undertake a review of the council’s approach to the enforcement of planning control, bearing in mind the criticisms made by local residents and others.

“A further point was raised in 2020 which I incorporated namely whether the approval of reserved matters fell within the scope of the authority given to the head of planning and building control by the planning committee’s resolution back in 2005. What I bring in that report is an independent view of the planning status of the site.

“I have reached views of the law on the basis of certain facts and judgements provided to me by officers of Craven District Council.”

She said a question on whether despite the protection afforded the flash and its surroundings it was destroyed or turned into a large, deep lake was outside her remit.

“My advice is that the work undertaken by developers must produce the approved plans and should be controlled as set out in the environmental management plan.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Brown said: “It was confirmed by a very professional barrister, employed at public expense, that there is a condition in place which requires the Hellifield flashes to be developed in such a way that the water levels rise and fall with the seasons. That means that any development that creates a steep sided permanent lake feature would be in breach of the planning conditions.

“Surely it must now be the responsibility of Craven District Council to measure the depth and the angle of the slopes on the side of the lake and take appropriate action if what has been created is indeed a steep sided permanent water feature.

“This matters enormously. Wading birds and newts cannot take advantage of a pond that has steep sides and so the wildlife value of the flashes is likely to have been seriously compromised.

“I call upon Craven District Council to take action to enforce the condition that Hellifield flashes must remain a temporary shallow water area and to insist on the dismantling of any permanent lake.”

Clr Moorby added: “I am of the opinion that, although this site is still work in progress, the damage that has been done to the habitat for the wildlife is terrible, as I said in my address to the committee, and we need to move forward to try and work together to protect as much of this habitat as we can.

“As can be seen from excavations digging into the water table; is this really preserving and enhancing the habitat for the wildlife?”