Coun Hannah Kitching, of the Penistone West ward, is leader of Barnsley Liberal Democrats and criticised the government’s failure to alter its stance on planning applications during the coronavirus pandemic.
Having previously spoken out against plans to build 460 new homes on Wellhouse Lane in her patch, Coun Kitching says she does not see why standard timescales need to be adhered to during this period of uncertainty.
The site, by Halifax Road and Wellhouse Lane, was earmarked for housing by the council in its local plan - which sets out development sites up to 2033 - but has faced opposition from residents who claim a development of this size is unsuitable for the area.
If approved, the Barratt and David Wilson Homes development would increase the size of Penistone by ten per cent, according to objectors.
Although plans were submitted before lockdown came into place, the situation has made it hard for some elderly residents to scrutinise the plans, according to Coun Kitching.
Under normal circumstances, residents would be able to hold public meetings and consult their neighbours face-to-face, which has been made difficult due to restrictions.
“The government has insisted that local authorities stick to the timescale of a 21 day period of consultation,” Coun Kitching said. “There’s no reason why planning can’t be suspended during this period of crisis, and there’s no excuse for a ‘normal’ planning process at this time.
“People are upset that the process is allowed to continue, and some developers are taking advantage while the public and local authorities are distracted.
“There are lots of questions surrounding the timing of these plans - if it does get to the council’s planning board, the board is currently reduced.
“My real gripe is with the government - it would be reasonable to relax planning guidelines and arbitrary targets. We are entering a different world, and there needs to be some flexibility.
“I’m not against development, but there are objections to a development of this size in this location.”
Barratt Homes say they have have followed the law and have ensured they stuck to ‘formal procedure’ when submitting the application, as well as adhering to its public consultation duty.
A spokesman said: “We strongly object to the accusations of taking advantage of reduced capacity within the council.
“We have completed significant consultation to date and in submitting our planning application we have strictly followed national and local guidance.
“On January 23 we held a public consultation at St John’s Community Centre in Penistone to ensure a clear and open dialogue with local residents.
“After this, we took time to reflect upon the feedback provided and made amendments to our scheme where possible.
“We formally submitted the planning application on February 24, four weeks prior to the government lockdown and the period for formal consultation started.
“The government has made it clear that the planning system should operate as normally as possible to encourage much-needed housing delivery across the UK.
“Barnsley Council is rightly taking steps to progress the application as swiftly as possible on a site that has been allocated for housing in a formally adopted local plan for over 12 months.
“We remain committed to continuing dialogue with local councillors, residents and other stakeholders on this application. Once all consultation comments are received we will digest them and make amendments to our scheme where appropriate to address concerns.”
Coun Tim Cheetham, cabinet spokesman for regeneration and culture at Barnsley Council, revealed more than 200 letters were issued to nearby residents to help them access the plan’s information.
He added: “We can confirm the council received a planning application for residential development at land off Halifax Road in Penistone and that this application validated on April 9.
“Regulations require planning authorities to publicise applications through notices in the area, consultation letters and press adverts which should be proportionate to the scale of the application.
“Following government advice to provide the best possible service in these difficult times, 206 letters were distributed to residents, eight site notices were put up in the area and adverts were included in the local press which meets recommended guidelines.
“The purpose of this is to advertise that the application has been received and seek comments from residents. Anyone can comment on a planning application consultation, not just those residents who have received a letter.”