A planning appeal decision for housing in Wem earlier this week shows that Shropshire Council could have won a judicial review over the aberrant decision to approve 137 houses off Foldgate Lane. The council has never given strong reasons for not going to court. It has refused to publish the legal advice it received. I think it would have gone to court if Foldgate Lane had been further north in the county. The lead cabinet member and senor officers did not even bother to visit Foldgate Lane before making their decision.
In a statement slipped out just before Christmas, Shropshire Council announced that it would not challenge granting of permission for 137 houses off Foldgate Lane. Permission was granted following a public inquiry. The planning inspector’s decision was obviously flawed and he failed to take account of the local plan, SAMDev. But, just as the council closed down for Christmas, it announced that it would not challenge the decision in the high court. Now, an appeal in Wem shows just how strong the council’s case would have been.
The Wem appeal involved plans for 50 homes on a greenfield site off Aston Road, behind Churchill Drive. Like Foldgate Lane, the proposed housing was in open countryside adjoining the town settlement development boundary. The inspector noted the adopted local plan policies in SAMDev strictly control development around Wem, as they do in Ludlow. He said that housing targets were already nearly met through completions and permissions at only halfway through the plan period (SAMDev runs to 2026). That’s the case in Ludlow and we have now exceeded our SAMDev target. He agreed that Shropshire Council can demonstrate it has enough land for housing over the next five years. As did the Foldgate Lane inspector.
The Wem site was east of the (notorious) level crossing. As we all know, the Foldgate Lane site could not be more difficult to access.
The inspector said the Wem greenfield site “makes a positive contribution in landscape terms to the character and appearance of the countryside area and to Wem’s rural setting.” As do the green fields at Foldgate Lane. He continued, “The loss of the open undeveloped nature of the field to built development would have a significant adverse effect on the character and appearance of the countryside, landscape and the rural setting of Wem.” The Foldgate Lane development will have a similar impact.
Summing up his decision on the Wem site, the inspector held there was little justification for the development of the agricultural land. He upheld the primacy of Shropshire’s planning core strategy and SAMDev.
In agreeing that the Foldgate Lane decision could go ahead, a different planning inspector ignored the core strategy and SAMDev. That’s why the decision should have been challenged in the high court. And I am confident that the council would have won.
The cabinet member and officers responsible for the decision have never visited Foldgate Lane. I am sure that if the development had been further north of the county, they would have left the ivory tower of Shirehall to visit the site. And I am convinced they would have agreed to a legal challenge.
The council took two sets of legal advice on its decision not to challenge the Foldgate Lane decision. It has refused to release that advice. If Shropshire Council has confidence in its decision, it should publish the advice it received immediately.