WEST Berkshire could see a greater number of new homes being built after a planning inspector ‘blew West Berkshire Council’s housing strategy apart’ at a recent appeal.
Up to 90 homes can now be built at Firlands Farm, Burghfield, following Henry Davidson Developments (HDD) Burghfield Common Ltd’s successful challenge against the council refusing its plans for the site, which is classed as greenfield and lies outside of the village settlement boundary.
The developer had sought permission for up to 129 homes but reduced the number of homes to a maximum of 90 before the inquiry began.
The council had refused the application, saying that it could demonstrate a five-year housing supply and that the application was premature while its development plan document was being formalised.
Planning inspector Kevin Ward, however, has ruled otherwise.
The council’s core strategy says that 10,500 homes should be built in the district by 2026, an annual average of 525.
In 2012, Government inspectors approved it, under the proviso that housing figures – carried out via a Strategic Housing Marketing Assessment (SHMA) – be reassessed within a three-year period.
Mr Ward highlighted that this time period has nearly expired and there is still no up-to-date SHMA to properly assess the district’s housing needs.
And it was confirmed at the inquiry that work on the SHMA only began in January 2015, with the council working with other authorities on the project.
“Whilst I appreciate the difficulties in progressing joint working on a SHMA with other authorities, the council has had almost three years to address the situation” he said.
Mr Ward also agreed with the developer’s calculation that 833 properties should be built each year as an ‘appropriate starting point’ for updated housing figures.
West Berkshire’s councillor for planning, Alan Law (Con Basildon) said: “I am concerned that the planning inspector has decided to pre-empt the outcomes of the Berkshire-wide SHMA, which is in the process of being concluded and which will provide an assessment of future needs for housing for the district.”
The council said it was extrememly disappointed with the ruling and was considering its options in light of the decision.
Chairman of the Residents Against Firlands Square action group, Erle Minhinnick, said he was disappointed that the inspectorate had accepted the developer’s housing figures instead of the council’s.
“We now have a free-for-all of developers producing their own figures to support their case and influencing future inspectorates,” he said.
Mr Minhinnick added that the group would still be active, making sure that the developer stuck to the 13 conditions imposed.
Burghfield resident Zane Welch said: “The fundamental, underlying problem is that it won’t end there.
“There will undoubtedly be further applications in the near future with the potential for several hundred houses on the site.
“I do not feel the council has let the residents down either at the hearing where they acted with professionalism and integrity or with the housing figures.
“They can only work with the information available to them at the time.
“It is most likely that the revised assessment will reveal that the housing numbers are too low and this will invite more speculative planning applications.”
Leader of the West Berkshire Liberal Democrats, Alan Macro (Theale), said: “The council has been far too relaxed about the SHMA and took far too much time to start it.
“As a result, the inspector has blown the council’s housebuilding targets and strategy apart.
“Many communities are now likely to be lumbered with large housing developments on their doorstep which council planners will now be unable to prevent.”