A STAFF shortage at a council has led to a bizarre delay in considering a planning application.

The UK’s largest supplier of ready-mixed concrete finished extracting the remaining reserves from a quarry before a request for an extension was considered – despite objections from locals.

North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee heard Hanson applied in 2015 to continue extracting sand and gravel for a further four years from December of that year at Ripon Quarry, North Stainley.

Ripon Quarry, which is bordered by historic house Norton Conyers, the inspiration for Jane Eyre, has operated commercially since at least the Second World War, extracting sand and gravel from the River Ure and nearby land.

As the quarry site straddles both Hambleton and Harrogate districts, environmental health officers from both authorities recommended conditions in relation to noise limits, hours of use and a dust management plan after it was found one complainant had been subjected to noise levels in excess of World Health Organisation guidelines.

Objecting to the application in January 2016, Tanfield Parish Council said the potential volume of quarry traffic through East and West Tanfield, including light vehicles which already use this route was unacceptable.

The parish council also raised issues with the noise levels from the site, the possibility of boreholes in East Tanfield running dry, the impact on the neolithic Thornborough Henge, the remains of a medieval village and impact on the water table.

However, the planning committee was told in the four years since the application was submitted in 2015, the remaining reserves within the application site had been extracted, and the required works to restore the area had also been completed.

Councillors unanimously approved the application without debating any issues or questioning why it had taken almost four years to come before the committee.

After the meeting officers explained the lengthy delay in deciding the application had been due to the planning department having been understaffed and unable to manage all the planning applications on its books.

They said there were numerous other outstanding planning applications which had been similarly delayed, and some of which had been delayed even longer, but with recent increases in staff in the department, they were now trying to tackle the backlog.

Officers said during the delay over the Ripon Quarry scheme, the applicant had carried on anyway, and fortunately had done “what would have been considered acceptable”.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Peter Sowray, said he was satisfied by the council’s action to cut the delays and increase planning staff. He said he had been concerned by the delays as the government had the power to call in the authority if decisions took too long.

He said: “We have always kept well above that. There is a national shortage of planning officers. It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to operate on low staff numbers.”