WHY should Bradford Council have the right to dictate its policies to residents of outlying towns such as Keighley, Ilkley and Silsden?

We have seen yet another instance of planners riding roughshod over the concerns of hundreds of residents, since Silsden is to be urbanised with yet another housing estate and more congestion and pollution from traffic. And this with three other estates still under construction, whose further impact can only be guessed at! But, despite upwards of 850 written objections, and deprived of an opportunity to voice their concerns to planners in person, a further 138 houses have now been given the go-ahead, on one of the most picturesque and valued approaches to the town.

Never having attended a planning committee meeting held in public before, it’s hard to know what to expect; but if the one held in City Hall to determine the fate of a greenfield site off Bolton Road is anything to go by, they are something of a revelation. Local people were in attendance, though few would be given an opportunity to speak; and those that did were pitted against the clock and generally ran out of time. Why? Because the reasons why the application ought to be rejected far exceeded any potential benefits to the town and its residents.

To trade such a valuable amenity (a picturesque hillside, complete with established footpaths, mature and ancient hedgerows, much used and a learning resource for the local school) for yet another housing estate seems impractical at best – since sizeable underground tanks to cope with rainwater would need to be built. At worst, it is madness, particularly as the town is already struggling to cope with the fact that it will soon have nearly doubled in size! In any case the scheme is, as we were to learn, quite unnecessary. Silsden has no need of any more housing, as the most recent and soon-to-be implemented guidance suggests. Also, Silsden Health Centre and the new school are full to bursting and the main road running through the town, already over-used and worn out, cannot be widened to take any more traffic. Also, there was little mention over future flooding risks, and nothing said about the ageing concrete pipe which carries all the town’s effluent down the valley to the sewage works at Marley.

After nearly two hours of posturing by Persimmon Homes Ltd, the matter was put to a vote, another revelation because incredibly, especially for a decision of this magnitude, the matter was to be decided on the say-so of just five council members, none of whom seemed in any way local. In fact, one member of the panel, reliant on the maps and photos provided by Persimmon, was not at all sure where these fields were, having confused the site with the location of a proposed footbridge over the Aire Valley trunk road more than a mile away.

Given the circumstances, and the fact that any decision would have far-reaching consequences and future knock-on effects, you might have thought that this was a matter that shouldn’t be rushed. There ought, at the very least, to be some sort of deferment, if only to visit the actual site.

But no. Instead, and almost as if it had been scripted, the application was approved – three to two – carried by the voter with the low mark in geography, perhaps. Either way, the people who live and work in Silsden will have to stomach and learn to live with the result. Has the case for towns such as ours to leave the Bradford authority ever been so clear cut or as strong?

John Johnson, Silsden

I WAS saddened to find out that planning permission had been given for the Persimmon development of 138 houses, on green fields, at land off Bolton Road, Silsden.

I did my best, as a former professional landscape architect and environmental consultant and naturalist. I even supported Silsden’s Campaign for the Countryside with a 40-page report and two movies. The fight was never going to be easy. Persimmon had managed to persuade a panel of professionals from Design Yorkshire, that looks at the design of schemes, to provide their judgement. They not only applauded the housing design but stated “this will provide more value not only ecologically but also to local habitats, to neighbours, to the value of the houses, and to the experience of the people that ultimately live there”. Words that utterly contradict the voice of 820 objectors (out of 826 commenters), but more surprisingly the conclusion given in the ecological appraisal where it specifies a loss of habitat units by 45.24 per cent and that appropriate offsite compensation measures will be required through either securing local habitat creation and management, purchasing biodiversity credits, or providing a bespoke financial contribution. Nature, now regarded as a commodity, can be shifted elsewhere (anywhere!) by offsetting or by payment. What do you think Bradford Council will do? This misfit of understanding is direct evidence that all is not right. The conditions imposed at determination were also unfaithful, being agreed and incorporated into the design almost two years ago to meet policy requirements, so there were no real substantial conditions to the scheme. Even £100,000 for the bridge, circa the cost of a third of an ‘affordable’ house, is underwhelming as any kind of compensation. How will any remaining trees and hedgerows be protected?

With Persimmon having the full support of planners, the outcome was inevitable. Why? It was always planned to be so. Take the earlier development of Silsden Primary School; it was always going to be constructed where it is, and though other sites were looked at, all were deemed to be unsuitable for one reason or another. Its siting was critical to allow, if not encourage, development to occur alongside it. The pincer movement was to allow the construction of the Skipton Properties estate, nearby, but the persuasive game changer was likely the holding back on determination of the Persimmon site, to allow another proposal, the Newitt Homes development of 72 houses at Middleway, south of the school, to be initiated. Proposed in late June of this year, Bradford Council clearly had known about it since their proposal for the school; in fact they had facilitated an access strip alongside the school exit. This is piecemeal development, controlled salami style, likely to ensure an environmental impact assessment is not needed. The screening report expresses no EIA is required by reason the site is classified as an urban development project, akin to a shopping centre or sports stadium, and there is no requisite for a cumulative assessment because there are no other significant developments within proximity. What are your thoughts? The inevitability meant it mattered not how many objections they received. All were lost, and the countryside campaign was made pointless, by creation of the new Silsden Primary School and its unspoken sacrifice. The history of planning applications in Silsden shows the same pattern of harm to nature and voices going unheard; the planning system is also meant to protect the environment rather than be primarily used to abuse it by a conveyor of facilitative development. It is probably true to say every build in Silsden has destroyed more wildlife habitat than it has created.

Every time habitat is affected by development, a loss of habitat happens incrementally, if not exponentially adjacent to it, lost due to the impact of pollution by noise, light and human activity; a loss favouring further development. A cumulative impact assessment may have flagged this up. Wildlife doesn’t stand a chance. It is hard to see much happiness for all the misery that is being created and imposed. Who’s to blame? We can’t blame our town councils, they cannot do anything, they’re a layer of bureaucracy with no influential power; why do we have them? We cannot blame wholly our Labour-controlled district council either, for the Tory Government is also power playing – however all should be accountable.

I don’t know what the answer is, but a radical change to our electoral system, accountability and the way governance is conducted at all levels would be a start. Are we to wait until all of nature is harmed or lost to realise that we have destroyed what was keeping us alive?

Paul Redshaw, Silsden