RESIDENTS have acted angrily at a district council u-turn to allow a housing development after pressure from central Government.
They branded the council’s planning committee ‘weak’ after it approved the building of 53 homes at Kiln Lane in Leigh Sinton, on Thursday (January 16) despite the bid being previously refused by the body’s Northern Area Development Management Committee (NADMC).
Council leader David Hughes also came under fire and was barracked with calls to ‘resign’ by members of the public in a packed council chamber after he said the development should go ahead.
Coun Hughes, who also represents the Leigh Sinton ward, said the council risked being declared ‘poor performing’ and placed into special measures by the Government due its lack of available land for housing. That would see the council relinquish any say on planning matters.
The leader added the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which encouraged sustainable development, ‘trumped everything’ as the council’s own local plan – The South Worcestershire Development Plan – was yet to be accepted.
“It’s unfortunate councillors should find themselves in this position not of our own making.
“If this was refused the council could be faced with considerable financial penalties which would be paid out of the council taxpayer purse.”
Council officers had brought the Leigh Sinton proposal before the planning committee after feeling the refusal by the NADMC was inconsistent with a decision to give the green light to a housing application in Kempsey.
Certain members of the committee aired frustrations with the situation on the night.
Coun Dean Clarke said: “We are always been told we’ve got to take decisions we don’t like because of the risk of special measures.
“Why are we here?
“I thought Kempsey was a bad decision at the time, it’s an even worse one now.”
Coun Roger Hall-Jones added it was ‘sad to see’ threats to planning committee members if they voted they way they felt.
Residents’ main concerns had centred around the development being located in the ‘Significant Gap’ – more than mile worth of countryside separating Leigh Sinton and Malvern.
Following the decision, Les Williamson on their behalf, said the ‘destruction of the gap’ would be Coun Hughes’ defining legacy and added parish and district councillors may as well be dispensed with.
“Planning decisions no longer lie with our locally elected councillors but can be overruled by rapacious developers who frighten our weak planning department with threats of expensive appeals and judicial reviews.”
Darren Humphreys, managing director of CALA Homes Midlands, welcomed the latest decision and said the development would be in keeping with the character of the village and provide much-needed homes for the area, including 40 per cent affordable properties.
He added there would also be significant investment in the Leigh Sinton and vowed CALA would work with the community on the detailed designs of the scheme.