Wokingham Borough Council has been left enraged and exasperated by a planning inspector’s decision to allow 13 new houses to be built at Sonning Golf Club.
The borough council refused permission for the development because it would result in loss of countryside, is outside of current settlement and is not in line with national or local policies.
But, an inspector has overruled this locally-made decision and foisted more unplanned housing on the area on the basis that houses are not being built quickly enough here - despite the fact that the borough council has already allocated plenty of land to meet need and granted planning permissions provide for more houses than its requirement.
Executive member for strategic planning Cllr Stuart Munro said: “This was an utterly appalling decision by the inspector. It simply defies belief that a national planning inspector has come along and overruled our local decision on this application. We are particularly incensed by the reason given for the decision; which was effectively that not enough homes are being built fast enough in the borough. I think anybody who lives here would know that is poppycock.”
The inspectors decision was based, on part, on his belief that the borough council cannot demonstrate a ‘five-year housing land supply’ – this is a requirement under national policy that all local authorities have enough houses being built or in the pipeline to meet a rolling five year target. Wokingham Borough Council has a more than five-year supply (and submitted evidence to prove this to the inspector) but the planning inspector chose to use an old calculation instead.
Cllr Munro added: “We know the Government has a target for the number of houses it wants to see built and we are prepared to shoulder our fair share, and indeed have approved applications sufficient to provide around 11,000 new homes at the time of the appeal. But it is galling to be treated unfairly and for our residents to lose out on the opinion of an inspector.”
Wokingham Borough Council hoped to challenge the inspector’s decision and sought legal advice from two eminent QCs, but unfortunately the advice was that planning inspectors do have discretion in such decisions and that, even though the deliverability concerns raised by the Inspector have proved to be unwarranted, a challenge is unlikely to succeed. The legal advice was that the borough council should push ahead with its scheduled update of evidence to continue to prove it has a five-year-land supply.
Despite the inspector’s decision, the borough council is certain it has the required pipeline needed for housing delivery (five year land supply) and will continue to robustly defend its planning policies and to reject applications that are not in line with them.