Cheshire East Council has set out a plan of action to counteract new residential development in 'cherished areas' and will challenge a decision by Eric Pickles to grant planning permission to farm owners to build 200 homes on the outskirts of Congleton.
The council's planning committee refused the application by the Dale family in July 2011 for the 42-acre development at Loachbrook Farm, on Sandbach Road. But the Communities Secretary, on the recommendation of Planning Inspector Andrew Jeyes, overturned Cheshire East's decision in August 2012.
Planning consultancy Hourigan Connolly advises the Dale family and declined to comment.
The council is now to pursue a legal challenge to the government's decision, claiming the development proposal was "unsuitable, posed a threat to the landscape, was an unsustainable development and that more suitable sites were available elsewhere."
Cllr Michael Jones, Conservative leader of Cheshire East Council, said: "Our towns and villages are under siege from an unprecedented onslaught of unplanned development proposals. As an authority we are also saddled with unrealistic housing targets from an unaccountable regional planning system.
"Cheshire East Council recognises this legal action will cost money – but I believe we have no choice but to challenge this ruling.
"When an inspector supports the heart of the Council's case and acknowledges that the proposal would locally harm the character and appearance of this area of countryside, contrary to the development plan, but then says 'this is outweighed by the need to secure a five-year supply of deliverable housing land' – I find this perverse.
"I find it perverse that we grant permission for over 1,800 homes in one year but find that only 700 or so get built the next. It is further perverse that, while we are forming our Local Plan, the floodgates are opened so irresponsibly by a planning inspector. This could seriously undermine Sandbach, Crewe and Nantwich.
"This is particularly worrying when there are inconsistencies in decisions being made by the planning inspectorate.
"It is a challenge during the toughest, deepest, most austere housing market seen in history and when building rates are so thoroughly depressed, for any Council to be sure of providing five years of truly-deliverable land. So I find this decision perverse.
"Cheshire East stands in the most beautiful countryside, I believe, in the North West of England and we will not sit back and allow this to be eroded without a fight.
"We know that Cheshire East needs more houses. But I want to encourage planned, sustainable development with sufficient infrastructure in place (schools, roads, medical services) and local buy-in. Any change to our greenbelt or green gaps must be supported locally and to a minimum.
"Let me be clear: we want and need growth to ensure our future prosperity.
"But we need to ensure developments are planned properly after listening to local people – and that they reinforce, rather than undermine, our Local Plan, based on a vision that we can all agree.
"This legal action is necessary to help ensure a greener and more civilised future for all our towns – and Cheshire East Council will fight, using Council Tax payers' money, to protect you, the people of Cheshire East, and your families."
The council will set up an action plan "to counteract the unprecedentedly-high volume of planning applications for housing".
The council's actions include, in its own words:
- Produce a new Local Plan in a thorough but timely fashion that will promote the growth we need while protecting the areas we cherish
- Lobby Government ministers to ensure the National Planning Policy Framework is interpreted properly at planning appeals with greater emphasis on sustainable development
- Request that the Planning Inspectorate support Cheshire East Council's policy of plan-led and sustainable development
- Work with the construction industry to boost home building on sites that are already accepted for development – and explore penalties for those who simply 'bank' land rather than build on it.