Land and property company HIMOR Group submitted an outline planning application to Cheshire East Council in July 2013, seeking permission for a development including 880 homes, a retirement village, a local centre, a community building and a primary school on 43 hectares of mainly agricultural land to the south of Crewe. When the Council failed to make a decision within the time period allowed by law, HIMOR appealed to the communities secretary to determine the application.
Planning inspector Geoffrey Hill, held a public inquiry into the proposals in July and August 2014. The inspector said he had been asked by former planning minister Nick Boles "to give special attention to the evidence put forward by the parties on the five year housing land position across Cheshire East", a district which had been the subject of a series of appeals, with differing conclusions about the housing supply.
The inspector concluded that the Council was unable to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land, remarking that "the Council's position on housing supply has been inconsistent in how it conforms with [National Planning Policy Framework] and [Planning Practice] guidance, and its understanding of whether there has been a persistent under-supply is not well founded".
Hill said that the scheme included many benefits and was capable of being considered sustainable development. However he concluded that the benefits were outweighed by the adverse impact of permanently reducing the area of the green gap at a time when the Council's local plan was under consideration. The inspector, therefore, recommended that the appeal be dismissed and planning permission refused.
A decision letter issued on behalf of the communities secretary on 19 January (123-page / 1.0 MB PDF) said Pickles agreed with the inspector's conclusions.
"Overall the secretary of state considers that whilst the proposed scheme can be seen as sustainable development providing much needed housing, deferring a commitment to the reduction of an area of green gap in advance of the resolution of that matter through the local plan examination also represents a sustainable approach to development in accordance with the terms of the [National Planning Policy] Framework," said the letter.
"Whereas the scheme does have many benefits, the adverse impacts of approving the development resulting in the premature permanent loss of part of this Green Gap area outweighs the presumption in favour of sustainable development that might otherwise pertain," the letter said.
The developer, or any other interested party, has six weeks to challenge the decision in the High Court.