Entrepreneur fights to save Ponderosa

APPEAL: Howard Cook, owner of Ponderosa Park, could lose his home and businesses on the verdict of a planning appeal.
APPEAL: Howard Cook, owner of Ponderosa Park, could lose his home and businesses on the verdict of a planning appeal.

AN ENTREPRENEUR could lose everything on the verdict of a planning appeal.

Howard Cook, owner of Ponderosa Park, could have his home and businesses seized by banks if the decision to deny his planning application is not overturned by the secretary of state.

The park, near Dewsbury Moor, off Smithies Lane in Heckmondwike, consists of a rare breeds farm and visitor centre, a therapeutic centre for people with learning difficulties and a business park.

Giving evidence at a public inquiry on Wednesday, Mr Cook said he had been ‘led down the road’ by Kirklees Council with regards to his controversial plans to build a retirement community next to the park – some of which is in green belt.

Mr Cook’s second planning application – the first was refused in May 2011 - was turned down by Kirklees Council’s planning and highways committee in January after members ruled it was not an appropriate development for green belt land.

Council officers defended the decision at the opening of the six-day inquiry at Dewsbury Minster and said the special circumstances given for building on the green belt did not justify development.

Mr Cook told government inspector Brendon Lyons he had spent £1.35m on the planning process.

He said: “Throughout the whole planning process I have been honest with Kirklees Council and reassured the application would be approved.

“If the planning application fails the banks have clearly stated that they will have no other option than to call in their debt. This will result in the closure of Ponderosa Park, including the therapeutic centre, the visitor centre and Ponderosa business park.

“As my house is also part of the land owned by the banks, I will also lose my family’s home.”

People living nearby have been fighting the plans.

Yesterday, members of the public gave their views on the retirement community proposal, which will include a 50-bed care home and 145 one and two-bedroom homes.

Lisa Drake, of the Save Norristhorpe Green Belt group, said more than 300 residents objected to the plans.

She said: “The land proposed for development is steeped in wildlife. It is used by all generations of the community.”

Other Norristhorpe residents argued that the view of the valley from Lodge Lane, Norristhorpe, would be spoilt by the retirement community.

The appeal is scheduled to end next Tuesday.

A decision is expected after September.