Development company Tiviot Way Investments (TWI) submitted an outline planning application to Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council in December 2013. Its application was for permission for a development including up to 550 homes and a 2,500 square metre local centre on 23 hectares of fields near the developed edge of the parish of Ingleby Barwick. The Council refused permission and TWI's subsequent appeal was recovered for determination by the communities secretary.
Following a public inquiry in July 2014, planning inspector John Braithwaite concluded that the proposal did not conflict with the local development plan. He recommended that the appeal be allowed and permission granted for the scheme.
The inspector dismissed the Council's argument that the site was designated as part of a protected green wedge separating Ingleby Barwick and neighbouring Thornaby. He said a map showing land protected under a superseded policy from the Stockton-on-Tees local plan was no longer relevant, and a diagram produced for the Stockton core strategy did not indicate that the appeal site should be considered part of the green wedge.
Regardless of whether the site was within the green wedge, the inspector found that the proposal left enough distance between the two parishes to ensure that policies seeking to maintain their separation would not be undermined.
A decision letter (41-page / 537 KB PDF) on behalf of the communities secretary, dated 20 January, said Pickles agreed with the inspector that the site was not within a designated green wedge. However, Pickles considered that the development proposal would undermine the strategic objective of providing and maintaining the green wedge in the area and gave "substantial weight" to the resulting conflict with the local development plan.
Unlike the inspector, the communities secretary felt that the loss of the openness of the appeal site under the proposed development would have "a material impact on the character of the area", conflicting with a policy seeking to restrict unsuitable development on unallocated sites. This conflict was given "limited weight", the letter said, since the relevant policy was out-of-date due to the Council's inability to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land.
The letter said Pickles had had regard to the benefits of providing up to 550 homes, including 83 affordable homes, in an area with a housing shortage, but that this benefit was reduced by uncertainty over how many homes could be delivered at the site within five years.
Dismissing the appeal, Pickles concluded that the benefits of the scheme were "significantly and demonstrably" outweighed by the failure to maintain the separation between Ingleby Barwick and Thornaby and the scheme's adverse impacts on "the quality of the urban environment".