Planning committee sticks by police HQ housing call in Leek Wootton - despite professionals advising change of heart
Councillors have unanimously stood by a decision to oppose plans for 83 homes near Warwickshire Police’s headquarters in Leek Wootton – despite planning professionals having a change of heart.
Warwick District Council’s planning committee discussed for almost two-and-a-half hours its response to a decision that it is powerless to take – applicant Cala Homes exercised its right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate because the case was not resolved within 13 weeks and it will be dealt with via a planning inquiry.
The committee’s position is the one that the council will take during the appeal.
It was decided in June to pursue rejection of the application on four grounds – “insufficient information” in relation to highway safety and flood risk concerns, “unacceptable” harm to protected species and the impact on heritage assets.
However, Cala Homes brought forward amendments, something they are allowed to do under a legal precedent known as the Wheatcroft Principle provided they are minor, to address concerns.
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An access track that serves neighbouring East Lodge is no longer proposed to be used by vehicles, leaving a single access point off Woodcote Lane.
The parameters plan has also been removed.
This is only an outline application, meaning the detailed proposals still have to come forward for a separate decision and cannot be considered at this stage and planning officers, the professionals tasked with helping the council make such judgments, recommended granting what is essentially an ‘in-principle’ permission.
The removal of the parameters plan is tied to this, leaving the inspector able to set conditions that will adequately – in policy terms at least – protect the heritage of the Grade II-listed Woodcote House.
It was deemed that the other three elements had been satisfied or could be dealt with through conditions.
Councillors disagreed and much of the to and fro between them, planning officers and legal advisor Sue Mullins surrounded the strength and detail of the arguments made on heritage grounds when the council's position was created in June.
Concern was also raised over whether Cala's amendments should be considered as minor and the basis on which Warwickshire County Council’s highways department had removed its objections.
Ms Mullins warned councillors they needed to be “very clear what your reasons are for going against officer advice, bearing in mind the potential contradiction of previous decisions you have made based on no additional evidence that I can see” to protect the council from having costs awarded against it if the inspector feels the committee reached an unreasonable position.
She added there was potential for committee members to be called up to explain their reasons at the inquiry, something Councillor Bill Gifford (Lib Dem, Leamington Milverton) later railed against.
“I would argue that whether or not the inspector totally agrees with us on heritage, it is quite clear that considerable importance and weight must be given to preserving the setting of a heritage asset,” he said.
He went on to say he was “slightly surprised” Ms Mullins had mentioned the prospect of being called up by the inquiry.
“I am quite happy to appear, delighted to appear,” he retorted.
“I am not sure that should have been said, quite honestly. I think the assumption that we would not be willing to appear, or that we should make a decision on the basis.”
Committee chair Councillor Alan Boad (Lib Dem, Leamington Lillington) interjected at that point. “I really don’t want to go down that rabbit hole,” he said.
In the end, councillors felt the impact of the position, nature and scale of the development in relation to the listed building and garden outweighed the public benefits of the proposed housing.
The inquiry, which had been due to take place in July, has yet to be allocated a new date.
When previously scheduled, it was expected to be heard across six days.