Developer blasts Tories after 184-home scheme's second secretary of state refusal against inspector's advice

Plans for 184 homes in Cheshire have been blocked by a secretary of state against an inspector's advice for the second time, prompting the developer to claim that Tory politicians "from top to bottom, have failed to endorse their own rhetoric" on housebuilding.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick (pic: UK Parliament)
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick (pic: UK Parliament)

Applicant Darnhall Estate has been battling for the right to develop the 6.5-hectare site off Darnhall School Lane in Winsford, Cheshire, since 2013.

The scheme would provide a local planning policy-compliant 40 per cent affordable housing, 10 per cent of the homes would be self build, with the remaining 50 per cent of the homes to be built by small- and medium-sized house builders.

The proposal was originally considered at committee by Cheshire West and Chester in November of that year but was refused against a recommendation for approval from planners.

It then went to appeal and was later recommended for approval by a planning inspector

However, the then communities secretary, Greg Clark, reopened the inquiry and in July 2016 refused planning permission for the scheme.

Then, in August 2017, a High Court judge overturned Clark’s refusal.

The application went to a third inquiry in November 2018 where, for a third time, the inspector recommended approval.

However, a decision letter issued this week on behalf of the current housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the minister had again decided to refuse the application.

The inspector’s report said he had concluded that Vale Royal Borough Local Plan (VRBLP) Policy GS5 - which sets out development boundaries, "considered to be one of the dominant policies for determining the application, [was] out of date". The application site sits outside of development boundaries.

As such, the inspector reasoned, the National Planning Policy Framework’s tilted balance applied in favour of the proposal.

Paragraph 11 of the July 2018 National Planning Policy Framework says that where "the policies which are most important for determining the application" are found to be out-of-date, "the presumption in favour of sustainable development" is enacted.

However the secretary of state’s decision letter said that, since the inquiry, "matters regarding the VRBLP have now moved on as [the Cheshire West and Chester Local Plan Part 2 (CW&CLP P2)] had been adopted which includes allocations, boundaries and detailed policies replacing those parts of the VRBLP that were saved".

As such, the letter said, the proposal would be a "clear breach" of up-to-date policies in the new local plan.

The letter said that, although the minister agreed that the proposal "would not have a significant impact on the landscape, given the loss of open countryside and the clear conflict with [local planning policy STRAT 9] and its aim of protecting the intrinsic character and beauty of the Cheshire countryside … he concludes that this should attract significant weight".

The inspector had argued that "the adverse impacts from the loss of the green fields and on the confidence in the development plan are not so great as to demonstrably outweigh the benefits".

The minister also gave the scheme’s conflict with an adopted neighbourhood plan "significant weight" while the inspector had attached "moderate weight".

Responding to the minister’s decision, James Verdin of Darnhall Estates said: "The application has received the support and approval of all of the planning professionals presiding but Conservative politicians, from top to bottom, have failed to endorse their own rhetoric that they want to cure the social ills caused by the lack of house building in the last 35 years.

"The decision is a snub to all bodies seeking to accelerate house building as well as the self and custom build industry, small and medium sized housebuilders and the local people of Winsford seeking housing."

Christopher Young QC, of No5 Chambers, who has acted on behalf of the applicant, added: "Nothing says ‘we don’t really care about housing delivery, even if we say we do’ than a secretary of state who ignores the recommendation of his own senior inspectors to grant permission, no less than three times."

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was asked for a comment on the claims but it had yet to respond at the time of publication.

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