The company behind one of the most contentious developments in York also owns more than 30 acres of adjoining land – most of which lies in the Green Belt.
Henry Boot Developments has applied for permission to build 85 flats in two four-storey blocks in front of the former Terry’s factory.
The proposals, submitted jointly with Stonebridge Homes, have attracted 295 objections. Among those opposing the scheme are York Racecourse, York Civic Trust and the National Trust.
Nevertheless, City of York Council officers are recommending that councillors approve the development at a planning meeting on Thursday (8 October).
Further investigation has shown that the brownfield site earmarked for these flats is only a small part of the land owned by Henry Boot.
It bought a plot totalling 32 acres, including the area in front of the factory and a car park on the other side of Bishopthorpe Road, for £18 million in April 2013.
However, most of the land – about 25 acres – is open space known as Nun Ings.
It sits in an area marked as Green Belt in York’s Draft Local Plan. But when YorkMix asked Henry Boot for a specific assurance that it would not build on the land, it declined to give one.
Green Belt status
The area now owned by Henry Boot includes land behind a car park which sits directly by the River Ouse.
There is also a stretch of pasture land which runs parallel to the river. This area offers picturesque views of both the riverside and Terry’s factory, and is well used by walkers and runners.
According to York’s Draft Local Plan, everything apart from the location of the planned flats falls within the designated Green Belt. This is designed to prevent development and protect the city’s historic setting.
However, that Local Plan is yet to be adopted. And government planning inspectors told City of York Council in June that the Green Belt boundaries “do not instil in us any large measure of confidence”.
They have asked the council to explain the boundaries, or withdraw the plan.
That leaves the status of this land – and all York’s Green Belt – in limbo: a situation which a developer could potentially exploit.
Former city councillor Johnny Hayes, who successfully campaigned to prevent a new visitor centre being built into the motte under Clifford’s Tower, is very concerned about Henry Boot’s current development plans – and what it might do in the future.
He said: “I think that people will be truly shocked to see that this land is owned by a development company – particularly when people can see what Henry Boot is planning to build in front one of York’s most important landmarks.
“Terry’s factory, sitting as it does next to the Knavesmire in open countryside, is a hugely important part of York’s heritage.
“It is a building of the highest status, alongside York Minster, the City Walls and Clifford’s Tower.
“But Nun Ings is also very precious and needs to be recognised as part of York’s highly important Green Belt and protected from development.
“The question for tomorrow’s planning meeting is: who is the City of York Council interested in supporting – its residents or developers?”
Protect our views
York heritage campaigner Louise Ennis told YorkMix: “As you would expect for a city packed with world-class heritage, the city of York and its unique setting are protected under planning law – but that setting could be undermined by uncertainties about the boundaries of York’s Green Belt.
“The so-called ‘green wedges’ around the city’s boundaries should provide us with uninterrupted views towards heritage assets such as Terry’s chocolate works, as well as preventing urban creep towards nearby villages.
“Even where a development is classified as ‘brownfield’, if it butts up to Green Belt, a conservation area or a significant landmark like the Terry’s clock tower, national planning policy makes it clear that any new development should ‘enhance or better reveal their significance’.
“The factory is key to the history of York. So many locals have life memories associated with working here and it’s an important reminder of our city’s chocolate industry as well as an iconic building.
“With recent development encroaching on two sides, great care needs to be taken now to weigh up the scale, mass and design of any proposed development to the rear to make sure views of the clock tower building are still accessible for us and future generations.”
What we asked Henry Boot
We asked Henry Boot Developments six key questions:
- Why did Henry Boot Developments (HBD) buy the land at Bishopthorpe Road?
- Did HBD know this was earmarked as part of the York Green Belt when it bought the land?
- Is it the intention of HBD to develop some or all of this land in the future?
- If so, what does it plan to build there, and when?
- If not, what does HBD intend to do with the land?
- Can HBD give an assurance to York residents that it will not develop the land that is earmarked as Green Belt?
But the company chose not to answer any of them. Instead it sent us this short statement.
“This land was purchased along with the rest of the former Terry’s factory site in 2013. We are aware of the status of the land and we will always follow due process and procedure for our developments and planning applications.
“The Stonebridge Homes planning application for 92 new homes on the site adjacent to the former factory building, is going to the Council’s planning committee on Thursday.
“This application has been significantly altered and reduced by the applicants following dialogue with the council and other stakeholders.
“This site is brownfield, previously developed land and will deliver much needed new homes for York, including fully policy compliant affordable homes as part of the proposals.”