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By Ian Dipple Tuesday 18 February 2014 Updated: 18/02 13:54
CAMPAIGNERS claim they have been 'stabbed in the back' after losing the fight to prevent homes being built in Webheath.
Planning inspector Clive Kirkbride has allowed Taylor Wimpey and Barratt West Midlands' appeal against the refusal of plans to build 200 homes on land off Church Road, following a hearing at the Town Hall in January.
Redditch Borough Council's planning committee originally turned down the plans on the grounds of traffic, infrastructure and highways contributions. But just a month before the appeal was due to be heard, the council announced it would not offer any evidence after seeking legal advice indicating they would lose the appeal and land taxpayers with a bill of around £100,000 - the actual cost of preparing the appeal up until the point the council withdrew is £8,000.
It left members of Webheath Action Group to fight the appeal alone, supported by Redditch MP Karen Lumley and some councillors.
But Mr Kirkbride was unimpressed by their arguments. He said the principal of development had been established on the site since 1991 and the idea of its sustainability tested on three separate occasions. He added the council's draft Local Plan 4 earmarked the site for 500 to 600 homes.
Concerns about traffic were also dismissed as Mr Kirkbride said he had been offered no substantive evidence to back up the claims. He said there had only been one accident in which a person had been injured since 2008 at the Blackstitch Lane and Middlepiece Drive junction despite it being labelled an 'accident blackspot' - although WAG argued damage only accidents were not recorded.
He added developers were also paying more than £340,000 for road improvements in and near to Webheath, while the fact most services in the area were within 2km of the site and there was provision of a new bus service would help reduce reliance on cars.
Mr Kirkbride acknowledged the development would change the character of the area but it would not be harmful. Regarding claims the democratic process would be damaged if a decision by elected councillors was overturned, he said: "I acknowledge the Government may have raised expectations through its localism agenda that more decisions should and would be taken locally. However, the appeals process, including provision for local public inquiries, exists so evidence can be rigorously tested and, where found wanting, decisions based on it can be overturned."
David Rose, chairman of WAG, said the original reasons for refusing the application by the planning committee had been weak and the Government's new planning guidelines had made it too easy for developers to build on the countryside.
"Our politicians do not support their residents, or their own democratic decisions. Webheath residents have been stabbed in the back," he said.
Coun Robin Lunn, who represents Redditch North, said the Government's National Planning Policy Framework had heavily influenced the appeal decision, ignoring the wishes of the MP, county and district councillors and residents.
"This will further change the nature of Webheath, and is particularly sad when there are better sites nearby for these houses to go."
Coun Greg Chance, responsible for planning on the borough council, added: "While the outcome of the appeal was unfortunately to be expected, we all understand the strength of local feeling on the matter.
"A lot has been said about the decision to withdraw elements of the appeal defence. However when barristers and specialists conclude that a defence cannot be won because there is no evidence, the duty of the council to all its residents and the public purse is clear – and in this difficult situation our actions in that regard appear to have been vindicated."
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