The council has lost a planning appeal and has been ordered to pay costs over a 40-home scheme in Catterall, due to “unreasonable behaviour” over highways concerns.
Beecham Developments, represented by Mosaic Town Planning, had put forward an application for 40 homes on a 3.5-acre greenfield site outside Catterall, in a mix of two, three, and four-bedroom detached and semi-detached homes; 12 allocated as affordable.
The site is part of a mixed-use scheme for housing and employment use which has already seen 200 houses delivered by Miller Homes. Overall, the site is earmarked in the Local Plan for 242 houses.
Beecham obtained planning permission on the site following a non-determination by Wyre Council; the council then opposed the approval at a two-day hearing.
The council had raised concerns over the loss of the site for employment purposes, in particular around the A6 corridor, and argued the need for employment land to balance housing development in the surrounding area.
Beecham, meanwhile, had argued that developing the site for office or employment use was “unviable”, citing drainage and utilities costs. The council had agreed a speculative scheme on the site would not be viable, but it put forward that an owner-occupier pre-let development would be deliverable.
In a ruling made late last week, planning inspector Alison Partington sided with the developer, and ordered the council to pay costs.
The council had also argued the developer should use the council’s preferred housing mix, despite its own independent report saying that this was not supposed to be overly prescriptive.
The Inspector noted that Catterall is a semi-rural location where houses rather than flats are typically found; many of the properties proposed are three-bedroom dwellings, and the Inspector accepted that many people prefer the flexibility that comes with a three-bed house at little additional cost.
The Inspector also agreed the site would not be viable for industrial or employment use, with a benchmark land value would be “eradicated by costs such as drainage and the provision of other utilities”.
The council had also objected based on highways capacity, despite its highways team not putting forward evidence to justify refusal at an allocated site.
The Inspector ordered the council to pay Beecham’s costs, arguing Wyre had acted “unreasonably in not providing adequate evidence to support the putative reason for refusal, and in having a putative reason for refusal on a matter that could have been dealt with by condition”.
“I therefore find that unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary and wasted expense, as described in the Planning Practice Guidance, has been demonstrated, and thus a partial award of costs on highway matters is justified,” added the Inspector’s report.
Paul Williams, director at Mosaic Town Planning, said: “The allocation was only based on an indicative plan in an outline permission, with no actual evidence of what could be physically accommodated or viable.
“Once we provided the evidence, the Council refused to engage with it. In rigidly applying a housing mix based on the number of bedrooms, it failed to consider housing market economics and how people use space. Of course, many people now look for a spare room as a home office.”
Wyre adopted its Local Plan, covering between 2011 and 2031 on 28 February this year; this will see the delivery of a minimum of 9,200 homes over the plan period, equating to at least 460 a year. Around 5,120 of these will be on specifically-allocated sites.
A Wyre Council spokesperson said: “We have considered the decision and are currently seeking legal advice in respect of the soundness of both decisions and will consider what actions are appropriate in the light of such advice when it is received.”