The biggest planning decision in Shropshire Council’s history is edging towards becoming a scandal. I would not be surprised if it ended up in court.
One of the reasons councillors originally rejected the application for 1,075 homes was because of the increased traffic pressure on local roads, especially the Gaskell Arms Junction in Much Wenlock.
Now we learn that a crucial report on traffic impact on the Gaskell Arms Junction was not made available by Shropshire Council to committee members and the public before the meeting, even though it was commissioned to inform the planning committee.
It is unacceptable that a report produced to inform councillors was published two days after they made their decision on Monday. This stinks of bad practice and poor planning management.
Why didn’t we see this report? It was commissioned by Haworth, the developer of the scheme for 1,075 dwellings. The first version of the report was sent to Shropshire Council on 30 June 2021. That report has not been published on the planning portal in contradiction to best practice.
A second version of the report was issued on 9 September 2020. This followed the Southern Planning Committee’s rejection of the planning application on 10 August citing increased traffic at the Gaskell Arms Junction as one of the principal reasons. But the second report from ADC Infrastructure was not made available to councillors until it was published on the planning portal two days after the planning committee had approved the scheme.
As a committee we were blindsided by this. We rely on the officer reports for guidance but also delve into technical files that are flagged up in the officer report. And we browse the planning portal for reports and comments. For such a significant report not to reported and made available to councillors is unprecedented in my experience.
The report to the Southern Planning Committee referenced a report from ADC Infrastructure dated 2 July. There was also a statement in the report that there was an updated assessment for the Gaskell Arms Junction.
I had presumed, as I think other committee members may have also, that this related to the 2 July report. But the only relevant report was the 9 September report and this was not made available to councillors.
I am not suggesting that Southern Planning Committee members were misled at their meeting on 20 September. But I am saying that committee members were not sufficiently informed and that best practice in in making planning decision failed in this application.
I understand that a challenge is underway to Shropshire Council having brought the application back to committee after it had been refused on a convoluted argument about an untoward email. Then was the issue of a vote by a member of the committee who had not been present for the entire discussion.
I am beginning to conclude that Shropshire Council has been out of its depth on this application. The application has been too big for it to handle.
I am in favour of development of the former power station site – I think the whole planning committee is – but we need to get the right scheme and approve it in the right way.