Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western has launched a scathing attack on Warwick District Council's leaders after a planning appeal to the Government's Planning Inspectorate went in favour of a developer which wants to build 200 new homes on land in the south of Leamington.
Mr Western has been among the many objectors against AC Lloyd' s controversial plans to build the houses on land south of Chesterton Gardens in Whitnash for several years.
The plans had been refused planning permission by Warwick District Council's planning committee twice on grounds of traffic, road safety, noise and air pollution and had many objectors against them.
But before the appeal hearing last month, council leader Andrew Day said the legal advice given to the authority suggested that the councillors' refusals were 'not supported by sound technical or planning reasons, are contrary to the expert evidence considered at the meeting and therefore may be irrational or unlawful' - and contesting the appeal would be a waste of taxpayers' money.
Cllr Day said: “The council has received legal advice that the planning committee’s decision to refuse this application was not supported by sound technical or planning reasons, is contrary to the expert evidence considered at the meeting and therefore may be irrational or unlawful.
“The appeal will proceed, and the merits of the committee’s decision will be determined by the inspector, but this council will not commit significant sums of public money contesting this appeal with the additional risk of being ordered to meet all of the substantial costs incurred by the appellant should they be successful.
“Members of the planning committee will of course be supported in providing witness statements to the hearing, if they choose to do so.
"Others may also choose to become ‘rule 6 parties’ to contest the appeal.
“In advance of this appeal AC Lloyd made a second application, which was also refused by the Planning Committee on May 19. If this appeal on the first application is successful, permission would be granted for the new development, but without any obligation for AC Lloyd to invest in the mitigation measures offered by the second application.
“I believe that the planning committee have acted with integrity in considering this important and complex application.
"The decision not to object to this appeal is a careful and considered judgement on where best to apply scarce public funding, given the strong legal advice about the very limited chances of defending the grounds on which the Committee’s decision was taken.
“I’m grateful for the support of the leaders of all political groups and my Cabinet colleagues in making this difficult decision.
"Together, we resolved to focus our resources on addressing residents’ concerns about the provision of a second access to this allocated housing site, rather than on the considerable legal expense of defending this appeal, whose outcome is unlikely to be favourable to the council.”
Respoding to the appeal decision yesterday (Thursday August 12) Mr Western said: "This is a dark day for local democracy and for the future of South Leamington.
“I can only apologise to Sydenham residents that we were not able to prevent this unsustainable and damaging development that I have been fighting since 2015.
“The hundreds of residents who campaigned against it can be so proud of their efforts.
“But the leaders of Warwick District Council should hang their heads in shame – utter shame.
“They failed to submit evidence against the development during the appeal process despite councillors on their own planning committee twice rejecting AC Lloyd’s application.
“They abdicated their responsibility to residents, to democratic convention and to planning probity.
“Their decisions will have sent a clear signal to big developers in our region that building unaffordable homes in the wrong places comes before the wishes of the residents they purport to represent.
“Serious planning reform must take place to prevent applications like this from ever being approved again – and that will not happen with this Government in power.
“Now the fight continues to ensure the creation of a crucial second access road to alleviate residents’ concerns.”
Green Party councillor Will Roberts, who represents the Willes ward at both district and county council levels, has also been among those who have campaigned against the plans.
Cllr Roberts said: “This is devasting news for the residents living along the single access route, who have already been let down by the decision of the Council not to defend the democratic decision of the Planning Committee.
"For many residents this was never about stopping the homes being built, but stopping AC Lloyd from using their residential streets as a route for heavy construction traffic and further congestion from an extra 200 homes.
"This decision will impact residents' health and wellbeing and shows the failures of our planning system controlled by central government, which prioritises developer profits over people's health. Local residents fought hard to oppose this which helped the democratic decision to refuse the application twice by elected members of the district council's planning committee.
"While AC Lloyd are happy to put profit before people on a development which will make them tens of millions, they are also claiming costs against the council for going to appeal.
"This means that, potentially, hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money will be handed over to AC Lloyd.
"We must now make sure AC Lloyd deliver a second access mitigating the devasting impact of the single access route plus challenge them taking taxpayers money when they are due to make tens of millions in profit.”