PROTECTING their communities and environment from unwanted housing developments across west Cheshire has come at a high price as the local authority faces a bill of more than £1 million.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC) revealed it faces the £1m plus bill after members "supported the views of their local communities" by refusing a number of applications, only to have those decisions overturned by Planning Inspectors at appeal.
Under the National Planning Policy, Inspectors have ruled against the authority because it did not have a five year supply of housing land.
Until CWAC’s emerging Local Plan is adopted, the policy is still governed by a housing target based on out-of-date evidence in a now defunct regional plan dating back to 2003.
Costs already awarded against the council and claims in the pipeline, plus the authority’s £268,000 bill for legal and inquiry fees, mean that CWAC is to pay a high price for members’ determination to protect their communities and environment from unacceptable development.
CWAC has priorities the development of its Local Plan after being told to start the process afresh in 2010. The plan has been submitted to the Secretary of State for public examination with hearings likely to take place in the spring.
Council leader Mike Jones said: “Our planning officers can only make recommendations based within current planning policies and guidance.
“There is little flexibility for them to reflect the views of the local community if the grounds for opposition fall outside these parameters.
“However, elected members of all parties have understandably listened carefully to local communities affected by these developments and rejected applications which have subsequently been allowed on appeal.”
Councillor Jones added: “Sadly, the reality of the situation is that council support for members at appeal has been heavily and in my view unfairly punished financially - in some respects, the heavy price of democracy.
“The way to address this situation is by putting in place an up-to-date Local Plan – and that’s exactly what the council is doing. Our Local Plan is now at its final examination stage and we hope to be in a position to adopt it late Summer.”
Cheshire West and Chester’s Local Plan identifies that 22,000 new homes should be built by 2030 and protects the North Cheshire Green Belt with a single proposed release of land off Wrexham Road.
With consents already in the pipeline for well in excess of 10,000 new homes, opponents of the plan have accused developers of “land banking” and should be encouraged to start building before any further permissions are granted.