COUNCILLORS serving on a local authority which has repeatedly been accused of putting expanding firms’ interests above those of its residents and the environment have been told being “business-friendly” does not mean having to approve every single plan for a commercial operation.

Hambleton District Council’s development manager has issued the advice to the authority’s planning committee as it considered a proposal to relocate a 24-hour agricultural vehicles and machinery sales and repair service from an industrial estate to grazing farmland in open countryside at Great Busby, near Stokesley.

The meeting had heard officers recommend Agriplus Limited’s scheme to change of use of the land overlooked by the North York Moors National Park off the A172 and extend an agricultural building by some 471sq m be rejected.

They said the proposal flew in the face of the authority’s recently-approved Local Plan, a blueprint for development which the council has spent several years and significant amounts of resources completing.

Officers said the venture would be highly visible and harmful to the character of the area and would be “an incongruous form of development within the open countryside”, and was best suited for an industrial estate.

However, an agent for Agriplus told the meeting the firm had “considerably outgrown” its Stokesley Business Park base and it was struggling to function there properly, particularly with loading vehicles at the site, sparking complaints from neighbouring businesses.

He said after several years searching for a suitable site, the firm had concluded the most suitable site for the rural business was in a rural location.

Ahead of the meeting the proposal had sharply divided local residents and the firm’s customers, attracting scores of letters of support and objection.

While some people highlighted how it was important the firm had a local base to support the area’s dominant agricultural sector others complained it would disturb a nearby caravan park and harm the tourism sector and the landscapes it depended on.

Councillors said although issues over noise from the vehicle repairs firm could be overcome by insulating the building, the firm “could quite easily grow out of proportion to what is required” at the site and suggested there must be better alternative locations for the firm.

Stokesley councillor Bryn Griffiths told the meeting there was room on the town’s industrial estate for the firm, and that the business park had been created specifically for such firms.

However, Councillor Andy Wake told the meeting the proposed site was quite well-screened and set well back from the A172. He added: “We are supposed to be a business-friendly council.”

Several other members then repeated that Hambleton was a business-friendly council, and suggested there would be “a net benefit” to the firm moving from industrial estate due to the issues other firms there had with it.

Ahead of councillors deferring a decision on the application to get more information, the authority’s planning development manager Tim Wood said while members had taken the “business-friendly approach” to considering planning applications many times, “there are two sides to being business-friendly”.

He said: “It doesn’t necessarily mean approving every proposal for commercial operations because if you are the operator of a business that has been unsuccessful for some reason you are disadvantaged by the council being supportive of a proposal that doesn’t meet policy requirements.

“You are getting an unfair advantage over some other competitor. Simply approving applications when they are in conflict with your policies is not necessarily business-friendly to all.”