THE LEADER of Malvern Hills District Council has accused Government inspectors of threatening the council’s credibility by overturning housing applications which the authority’s planning committee had turned down.
In a two page letter to Nick Boles MP, Parliamentary under secretary of state for planning, Coun David Hughes also said Government promises to scrap old housing forecasts – regional spatial strategies (RSS) – had been ‘smoke and mirrors’.
Coun Hughes wrote to Mr Boles to request inspectors used new housing figures in the emerging South Worcestershire Development Plan – a document which provides guidelines for housebuilding in Malvern until 2030.
However because the SWDP is yet to be ratified by Parliament he said inspectors had been referring to out of date and discredited housing forecasts.
“This has had the effect of removing all the tools from the box, as far as responsible planning control is concerned.
“This is having a real negative impact on the credibility of our council and of the Government in the Conservative heartlands in Worcestershire, and I fear we may pay a high price for this at the next election.
“Peoples’ lives are deeply affected by this apparent cavalier approach to planning – an approach that favours the developers, and makes our efforts to work with the planning framework seem naive, gullible and foolish.
“By the time our plan comes forward for adoption, it will be too late. The damage will have been done.”
Coun Hughes added the council had been faced with ‘speculative’ planning applications which were being allowed by inspectors despite being outside of the guidelines in the forthcoming SWDP.
He argued if the plan was given more weight early permission could be given to suitable housing developments and proposals outside of it which were vehemently opposed by residents could be prevented.
He added: “This would demonstrate that local and central Government are working together for the good of the electorate, and that we are still serious about having a positive approach to localism and a plan-led system into the future.”
Mr Boles recently responded and assured coun Hughes weight could be given to the SWDP.
“I am very aware of the tensions in decision-making where a plan is yet to be adopted. I would like to be clear that emerging plan policies may be taken into account when making planning decisions.”
However he said it depended on what stage the plan was at and whether there were any outstanding objections as well as how consistent it was with the National Planning Policy Framework.
Mr Boles said the Government was working on providing further guidance to be issued before the end of the year which would set out exceptional circumstances where planning applications could be refused on the grounds of ‘prematurity’.
“The draft guidance is clear that a submitted plan will carry weight in such decisions.” he added.