A council leader has spoken of his frustration after more than 500 homes were approved by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate despite being refused by councillors.
Ashfield District Council’s planning committee refused the two separate housing developments over specific concerns with each plan, but developers for both schemes appealed the decisions.
The largest of the two developments, in Ashland Road West, Sutton-in-Ashfield, proposed as many as 300 homes on green space close to the popular Brierley Forest Park.
However, the planning committee refused the plans in March over concerns with its close proximity to the park, its impact on the existing grassland, agriculture and wildlife within it, and its potential impact on traffic in the area.
Property developer Bellway Homes appealed the decision, with the plans having been recommended for approval by the March committee.
As part of the inspectorate’s review, a week-long consultation was held and residents came out to oppose the appeal, with thousands of signatures on a petition and hundreds of official objections lodged.
But the Planning Inspectorate has now released its decision – overturning Ashfield District Council’s previous refusal.
In a report, the inspector accepted many of the concerns raised by the council but believed they were unlikely to cause “unacceptable harm”.
He mentioned the ongoing issues with Ashfield’s draft local plan and public opposition to the plan but referenced the council falling “significantly short” of meeting its five-year housing supply.
At present, the inspector said, the council can meet about 2.21 years of its five-year supply.
Ultimately, in making his decision, Inspector Andrew Dawe said: “The extent to which there would be adverse impacts of granting planning permission, relating to the main issues [raised by the council], would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the … benefits of the proposed development.
“I conclude that the appeal should be allowed.”
The inspector did not order the council to pay any costs as a result of the appeal, having requested more than £100,000 for a previous decision earlier this year.
The second recent appeal relates to a 206-home development in the Giltcroft Street and Vere Street area of Skegby, which was refused by the council’s planning committee in November 2020.
Councillors turned down Gleeson Homes’ plans citing concerns about traffic, sustainability, bus services, its pressure on community facilities, impact on biodiversity, the loss of green space, and its general impact on the area.
However, this appeal was also overturned by the inspector, who stated the development would “assist in addressing a lamentable and very serious shortfall [in housing supply] and would be consistent with the government’s objective of boosting the supply of housing”.
The two appeals mark the third and fourth major housing developments overturned upon appeal in Ashfield in the past 18 months.
The first saw a controversial 326-home development overturned in Beck Lane, Skegby, before the inspectorate also overturned and approved a 54-home development in Millers Way, Kirkby-in-Ashfield.
It takes the total number of homes overturned upon appeal in Ashfield to roughly 886 across the four developments – or slightly more than 10 per cent of the council’s 8,226-home housing target in the draft local plan.
Councillor Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of the council, expressed his anger at the two recent decisions.
“It’s horrific and it makes a mockery of local decision-making,” he said.
“We sit here in planning committees and we don’t just put our hands up to vote one way or another, we debate stuff and we look at it really carefully.
“In the past, we’ve approved massive applications and we’ve refused them, and when we refuse them it’s for a good reason.
“It’s not a fly-by-night decision, but then a man comes in issued by the Government and approves it anyway. It’s a mockery of what we do.”
Cllr Helen-Ann Smith (Ash Ind), who represents Skegby on Nottinghamshire County Council, also raised similar concerns after the decision was overturned in her division.
Cllr Smith, who sits on Ashfield’s planning committee, said: “We go through the whole rigmarole of scrutinising planning decisions, only for government-appointed [inspectors] to reverse a decision we were elected to make.
“It begs the question, what’s the point of a planning committee?”