Darlington Proves why you should never plan for the Minimum of a Range of Housing Options

In 2015 a Darlington Council Site Allocations Report stated

the draft housing allocations published and consulted upon was considered to be the minimum required to meet the housing growth identified in the Core Strategy. Accordingly, as it stands the Council lacks flexibility and “if any of the arguments advanced by others for higher housing numbers find favour with the Local Plan Inspector at Public examination in due course, or the sites identified do not come forward for new housing at all, or as quickly as envisaged.”

This Month Darlington lost an appeal to Gladman’s -who else, for an application increasing the numbr of houses in the village of Middleton St George by about 25%.

The Northern Echo

THE leader of a council that saw its housing policy overturned by a government inspector has defended planning officers, arguing that the system is skewed in favour of developers.

Councillor Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said lawyers had “exploited a weakness” in the authority’s housing development plans and admitted it was possible that other developers would do the same.

The authority saw its five-year housing supply figures and housing policy dismissed by a planning inspector as ‘out of date’ at an inquiry brought by Gladman Development as it won an appeal to build 250 houses on a greenfield site in Middleton St George.

Cllr Dixon said Gladman won 97 per cent of its appeals because it had the money to spend on lawyers while local authorities did not and said central government policy was stacked in favour of development…

“The housing figures and the data involved are very subjective. Gladman put some figures before the inspector and ignored others and it was only when the appeal began that officers knew what they were going to act on.”

Asked about the possibility of other developers exploiting the situation, he said: “It is always possible that further applications will come in.

“I’ve asked the officers to resolve the availability issue as a matter of priority.”

Cllr Heather Scott, leader of the Conservative group, attended a meeting with council planning officers and Cllr Doris Jones and Cllr Steve York, ward members for Middleton St George, to hear how the authority had got its figures so wrong.

She said: “There is a catalogue of things that have gone wrong.

“It is all to do with the Darlington Local Plan, which the inspector has said it not up to date.

“The officers told us that there were legal changes and that they had not really got the details of the changes ahead of the appeal and that is what Gladman exploited.

“Surely, if you know something is in the offing, you should find out about it?”

Cllr Jones, who revealed last week that she had begged the council to check its figures before going to the inquiry – which was refused – added: “To us, it looks as though it has been totally messed up.

“They were so sure that the figures they had were right and someone has come in and torn it to shreds. I think they were overconfident in themselves.”

Outlaw

A planning inspector has an allowed an appeal that will permit the construction of up to 250 homes in the open countryside in county Durham, after deciding that a council’s failure to make an objective assessment of its housing needs meant policies in its development plan were out-of-date.

Developer Gladman Developments submitted an application to Darlington Borough Council in 2013, seeking outline permission to build up to 250 homes on a field on the outskirts of the village of Middleton St George. The Council refused the application in March and the developer appealed to the secretary of state for communities and local government.

In a letter dated 12 January (22-page / 195 KB PDF), planning inspector M Middleton noted that the housing requirement in the Council’s 2011 core strategy was derived from the revoked North East regional plan. The figures used in the regional plan were “never an objective assessment of the need of the area”, said Middleton, and the Council had not made an objective assessment since. Consequently, the Council was unable to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites “regardless of the amount and quality of the data on the supply side”, the inspector said.

The appeal site was technically in open countryside outside the development limits set by saved policies from the 1997 Darlington local plan. However, the inspector noted that the limits had been intended to direct development only up to 2006 and said policies directing development towards urban areas should be considered out of date “in as much as they prevent development adjacent to the existing settlements”.

Middleton found support for the proposal in a core strategy policy which allowed for “windfall housing” adjacent to large villages should the delivery of housing stock fall to 80% or less of that required, and insufficient sites be deliverable within existing settlements. The inspector said that this policy support and the fact that the site was sustainable, being close to the shops and facilities of Middleton St George and well connected by public transport, attracted “significant weight in favour of the appeal proposal”.

Middleton concluded that the benefits of the scheme, including the provision of affordable and market housing in an area of “urgent” housing need and proposed funding towards education, sports and transport, were not outweighed by the adverse impacts including harm to the character, appearance and openness of the countryside.

One thought on “Darlington Proves why you should never plan for the Minimum of a Range of Housing Options

  1. And barely a mention of the fact that the development will significantly jeopardise the bid for the former Stockton and Darlington railway to become a world heritage site.

    As for an abject housing crisis in the area, elsewhere in rural County Durham (Ferry HIll) houses are literally not shifting for £1, so I’m not convinced there is a need for this planning expedience.

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