It was the fourth time the proposal by north east-based developer Jomast had come before elected members with North Yorkshire Council’s Harrogate and Knaresborough planning committee considering it again in Harrogate on Tuesday afternoon.
The application has been controversial with over 500 objections and concerns raised about its impact on the environment, traffic and contamination.
The land was previously part of a railway that pulled hoppers and tankers for the gas works in Bilton and asbestos was used for installation on steam trains.
There are also fears that tar from coal could still be toxic, posing a threat to future residents.
Since the last meeting, engineering consultants Solmek investigated the site again on behalf of the developer for an updated report.
Six excavations were evenly spread across the site and the former railway line and a North Yorkshire Council environmental health officer confirmed at the meeting that the council was satisfied with the “very comprehensive and professional” report.
However, nearby resident and toxicology expert Dr Damian Bowen told councillors he was unhappy with how the sampling was undertaken.
He said: “With data gaps still present, it’s inconceivable that the committee can proceed with this application.”
In response, Stephen Hesmondhalgh, a land agent on behalf of the applicant, defended the methodology used by Solmek in the report and said the homes will add to Harrogate’s housing supply.
Mr Hesmondhalgh said: “I’m aware of criticism of the methods adopted by Solmek, which is an experienced, independent company working throughout the UK for over 20 years.
"Their techniques in gathering samples on the former railway line were carried out in an industry accepted manner.”
Impact on the narrow roads in-and-around Bilton has long been a criticism of the proposal and Stephen Redmond told councillors how residents had undertaken their own four-week traffic survey of the area.
He said the number of vehicles Jomast’s suggested vehicle trip numbers were “significantly lower” than the ones residents had found.
Conservative councillor for Bilton and Nidd Gorge, Paul Haslam, described to the committee why many local residents have been so against the plans.
Councillor Haslam said future residents at the Knox Lane site would be isolated from local amenities such as doctors surgeries and schools unless they own a car.
He said: “There have been over 500 objections to this scheme, not because they’re all NIMBYs but because they believe the council is making a mistake.”
However, Conservative councillor for Boroughbridge and Claro, Robert Windass, and Conservative councillor for Oatlands and Pannal, John Mann, both agreed the scheme should be approved as they were satisfied with the latest contamination sampling.
They also highlighted how the site is allocated for development in the council’s Local Plan.
Councillor Windass added: “We have kicked it down the road three times previously and I think a final decision should be made today.”
But councillors narrowly voted to reject the officer’s recommendation to approve the plans by three votes to two with one abstention.
Council officer Glenn Sharpe warned councillors that because the site is in the Local Plan, a refusal could open up North Yorkshire Council to a potentially costly appeal unless they could defend it with sound planning reasons.
However, the developer did not submit a travel plan with the application to set out how the scheme will promote sustainable travel such as walking or cycling.
Liberal Democrats councillor Chris Aldred and Hannah Gostlow said this would be a reason for refusal because it meant councillors did not have sufficient information.
Councillor Aldred ultimately put forward three three reasons for refusal which were an unacceptable impact on the local road network, a failure to promote sustainable travel and a negative impact on the special landscape area.
His motion to refuse the plans passed by five votes to one which led to cheers from residents watching in the public gallery.