Angry protesters packed into the council chamber as a fierce debate erupted over controversial plans for new housing in Clitheroe.
An hour before Tuesday evening’s full council meeting, more than 100 local residents waving placards gathered outside the Ribble Valley Borough Council Chamber voicing their frustration at the council’s decision not to contest a developer’s appeal for 345 new homes at Waddow View, having previously refused permission.
Councillors were booed and heckled as they entered the council chamber and although the protestors were forced to put down their placards as they entered the public gallery, the heckling and jeering continued throughout the first hour of the meeting.
Campaigner and local resident Mr Roland Hailwood questioned the council’s decision not to contest the appeal by the developers for the land off Waddington Road and Kirkmoor Road, to which leader of the council, Coun. Stuart Hirst, replied: “I fully appreciate the sense of frustration and anger felt by the residents, but the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework has effectively made it impossible for the council to proceed in the inquiry. To have done so would have amounted to a reckless decision to spend a very large amount of public money with no realistic chance of success.”
Mr Hailwood, who is also Clitheroe Town Crier, continued to speak on behalf of local residents who even accused the council of taking “back-handers and brown envelopes” – an allegation strongly refuted by the council.
Mr Hailwood explained: “There are lots of comments flying around the Ribble Valley in relation to several aspects of this particular case. People are talking about brown envelopes and back handers, this is creating great concerns.
“This was then followed by the present debacle, when the initial objectors find out about the council’s u-turn for 345 new homes at Waddow View in The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times.
“The borough council has been far from transparent in its actions and can only blame itself for the state we are in.”
He added: “Ribble Valley should tell the Government we do not want all these houses and we want to grow naturally. If we do not, you will change the unique ambiance of Clitheroe. The knock-on effects to the town centre and local countryside will cause irreparable damage to Clitheroe and its already overstretched infrastructure.
“The people of the Ribble Valley deserve better and not listening to them and not representing their views is doing them a great disservice.”
Reacting to accusations of wrongdoing, Coun. Hirst said: “I fully appreciate the concern you raise, but I have absolutely no knowledge of anything like this happening and we strongly deny these claims.
“Like I explained before, after a meeting between our barristers and officers at the end of June, advice was given that the reasons for refusal could not be defended and because of the reasons for refusal and the factual circumstances of the case, the appellant’s costs could be substantial.
“We took the difficult decision not to proceed with the appeal.”
On leaving the council chamber, some of the protestors branded Ribble Valley councillors as “spineless, gutless and shameless.”
Outside the meeting, Mr Alistair Donald, of Kirkmoor Close, Clitheroe, spoke of his frustration and said he felt “let down” by the councillors he had elected to voice local people’s concerns.
“We have just left this meeting and our questions remain unanswered,” said Mr Donald. “We could have won the Waddow View appeal on the grounds of access to the site, which was originally opposed by highways officials at Lancashire County Council.
“However, county withdrew their objections and to this date, we have not had any explanation whatsoever. Until we are given an explanation, plenty of questions remain unanswered and we feel basically that there’s been a ‘done-deal’ behind our backs.”