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Council spent £130,000 defending planning appeals – and it lost them all

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

The council has lost many appeals on planning decisions in recent years. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN looks at how much it has spent on these cases.

BOLTON Council has spent around £130,000 fighting planning applications which have been taken to appeal by developers in the past three years.

But in most cases, the developer has won and the planning inspector has overturned the council’s original decision to refuse the application.

Around half of the money has been spent fighting the Bowlands Hey and Lee Hall developments in Westhoughton, a Freedom of Information request by The Bolton News has revealed.

At least £60,000 has been spent so far fighting two appeals by developer Bellway Homes.

The decision to throw out plans for 129 houses in the first phase of development at Bowlands Hey cost the council around £40,000.

So far, the council has spent around £20,000 on the second phase of development at the site which was discussed at a public inquiry in January.

Elsewhere in Westhoughton, the decision to refuse plans for 300 homes at Lee Hall cost the council more than £33,000 to defend.

Another £11,500 was spent on a plan that never came to fruition in Horwich.

Despite the fact that the council has spent so much money on failed appeals, the council leader defended the costly decisions made by the planning committee.

Cllr Linda Thomas told The Bolton News that the cross-party group of councillors, which she once belonged to, is an important part of the planning process.

She said: "We need to have that ability to say no. We are there to represent people."

Conservative group leader David Greenhalgh agreed with his Labour counterpart saying that it is councillors' "absolute right" to go against the advice of town hall bosses.

Planning officers often recommend that committee members approve plans, but councillors decide to refuse them anyway.

Cllr Greenhalgh added: "I would fully support the planning decisions that we make at committee. We've lost at appeals but we've gone down fighting."

The council lost its first battle with Bellway Homes when a planning inspector allowed 129 homes to be built at Bowlands Hey in August 2017.

The planning committee argued that it warranted inappropriate development for that type of land and would create traffic problems on the roads in the area.

But the developer appealed this decision which was overturned by a planning inspector last year following an inquiry.

Dozens of these houses have now been built with the first residents are expected to move in next month.

Planning inspector Helen Heward is due to make a decision about the second phase of development for a further 174 homes at the site by April 12.

It was refused by the planning committee in June but appealed by Bellway Homes.

Persimmon won its appeal to build 300 homes at Lee Hall, allowing the developer to build on 45 acres of protected open land near the Chequerbent Roundabout.

The inspector, Frances Mahoney, said the potential harm caused by the proposed development would not “come close to significantly and demonstrably outweighing the benefits of the scheme”.

A “significant shortfall” of housing across Bolton was once again stated as a key reason for allowing the development to go ahead.

Another costly appeal was the plan to build 42 flats at the former Swallowfield Hotel site in Horwich.

This case, which cost the council around £11,500 in 2016, resulted in a win for the developer but the plans never materialised.

Developer Redrow was locked in a long-running planning battle with the council over its contribution towards social housing in the borough.

Cuerden Development later stepped in with new plans to build a nursing home alongside 28 apartments which were approved by the committee last January.

However, the council had to compensate Redrow for its legal costs at the appeal because the inspector ruled that it was unreasonable to reject the application in the first place.

Similarly, costs were awarded to a man in Horwich who wanted to knock down a house and build two detached dwellings in Foxholes Road. This cost the council more than £6,000.

However, in the majority of these cases, the council did not have to pay costs to the appellant, meaning there was no evidence the council acted unreasonably.

In the last three years, the council has also spent money on appeals relating to Hill Lane in Blackrod, Roscoe’s Farm in Westhoughton and Corges Farm.

It has already spent £2,790 on defending its decision to turn down plans for 300 homes at Horwich Golf Club in Horwich ahead of a public inquiry in July.

Councillors make decisions on the most controversial planning decisions and do not have to follow officers’ recommendations.

But in some cases, this has led to costly appeals which the council loses.

Lib Dem leader Roger Hayes is concerned about this cost.

He blames the government for “changing the goal posts”, making it harder to stop developers from building in protected green spaces.

He said: “Developers have the whip hand because the government changed the policy. Planning officers have to follow what the policy is. And I think it’s good that councillors can try to change that.”

However, he said the planning committee sometimes comes under pressure from the public.

He said: “Councillors tend to react rather well to political pressure in their wards, particularly nearer elections. Every politician needs to listen to what constituents say but it’s a judicial process.”

UKIP leader Sean Hornby said he got “absolutely slated” on social media recently when he voted in favour of plans relating to a new three-storey mosque.

But he said there were no grounds in planning law to refuse the application.

He said: “We can’t just refuse it because Joe Bloggs doesn’t like it. We’ve got to have a reason.”

Farnworth and Kearsley First councillor Paul Sanders admitted that it is sometimes difficult to find a balance between listening to constituents and looking at what the law says.

He added: “I feel that the committee makes the decision based on what is in front of them.”

Legally, in making a planning decision, the question of whether something is a legitimate consideration for the committee is a matter of case law.

The weight attached to these considerations is a matter of judgement for the committee.

A spokesman for Bolton Council said: “Planning decisions weigh the benefits of a proposed scheme against the potential harm.

“This is a democratic process and elected members on the planning committee may use their judgement and give extra weight to the evidence set out in the report.

“Consultation and challenge are integral parts of the planning process and the cost of appeals is managed within the department’s budget.”


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