DEVELOPMENT chiefs have declared that a controversial housing application submitted by a council leader should go ahead, in an apparent u-turn over the suitability of the site.
Planning officers at Malvern Hills District Council have recommended council leader David Hughes’ bid for 21 homes on his farm in Alfrick should be approved when it is decided by the Northern Area Development Management Committee tonight (Wednesday).
It comes just a few months after the same officers, along with those on neighbouring councils in Wychavon and Worcester, rejected the site from the housing masterplan which will outline housebuilding in the district until 2030 – the South Worcestershire Development Plan.
As reported by the Observer at the time, they pointed to concerns for pedestrians regarding the proposed entrance, branded the village’s sustainability as ‘very poor’ due to a lack of public transport and argued the development would be too far away from shops and services in Alfrick.
But in a report prepared for tonight’s meeting officers state the village can take ‘some’ residential development and could accommodate a ‘small level of growth’.
They concluded there was ‘no good reason’ to refuse the plan in principle.
Worcestershire Highways has also signed off on amended designs for the site’s road access which means the application can not realistically be thrown out on those grounds either.
Gary Williams, head of planning, economy and housing at the council, said: “While there may appear to be a conflict between the allocation of sites in the emerging SWDP and the consideration of individual planning applications, different tests apply.
“Until the SWDP is adopted there is only so much weight we can place on it and applications need to be considered against national planning policy to achieve a five year land supply.”
Further concerns have been raised about how many councillors on the committee can remain impartial with 11 out of the 16 members being Conservative, including Coun Hughes himself who is expected to declare an interest and remove himself from the debate.
Coun Julian Roskams, leader of the Democratic group, claimed any councillor who held a portfolio which entitled them to a larger allowance was effectively ‘in the pay’ of Coun Hughes and should not take part in the decision. He called for the proposal to be deferred.
“Residents will find it difficult to understand why councillors who have a close relationship to the leader of the council and in some cases hold positions that are in his gift, are being required to determine an application brought forward by him.” he said.
Again Mr Williams moved to allay the concerns and said: “Decisions are considered on an application by application basis according to their planning merits. We have no evidence of the committee voting along party lines.”