A bitter blow to local democracy

REDDITCH Council has been accused of betraying residents after a decision to not fully defend the refusal to build 200 homes in Webheath.

It was announced last week that the council will not seek to defend two of the reasons a planning application was refused, ahead of an appeal against that decision in a public inquiry next month, to avoid wasting public funds.

The inquiry into the refusal of outline application for up to 200 houses on land at Pumphouse Lane in Redditch, which members of the council’s planning committee turned down in May citing local traffic, infrastructure and highway contributions, is due to take place over six days from January 16.

Legal counsel and consultants preparing the council’s case have said they have found no evidence to support two of the three strands of the refusal reasoning, concerning traffic and infrastructure and hinted that developers Taylor Wimpey and Barratt West Midlands will overturn the councillors' decision.

As full costs tend to be awarded against planning authorities that are considered on appeal to have refused an application without evidence, the council has decided to withdraw those two elements of the defence.

The costs have been estimated at about £100,000 which includes planning agents, barristers, expert witnesses and the compilation of supporting evidence by technical specialists.

Executive director of finance and section 151 officer Jayne Pickering said: "Unfortunately it appears to be beyond reasonable doubt that the inspector will find for the appellant in the public inquiry and likely make the council liable for all the costs incurred by both parties during the appeal.

"Given this, the appropriate and responsible course of action is to immediately signal our intention to withdraw the indefensible elements of the appeal, and incur no further costs related to those elements.”

Ruth Bamford, head of planning and regeneration, added: “While the inspector is likely to overturn the committee’s decision and grant the outline permission, there are still matters to be resolved regarding the proposed development.”

David Rose, chairman of Webheath Action Group, said that the decision came as a bomshell.

"This is a bitter blow to local democracy and the residents of Webheath," he said.

"What a disgraceful set of affairs when Redditch Borough Council refuse to defend their own decision. Is this democracy? Certainly not.

"Council officers appear to make decisions for this council. This is what happens when weak councillors allow the tail to wag the dog."

He added the group will continue to defend the original decision to refuse the application.

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