Taxpayers will foot the bill after a planning inspector overturned Lancaster City Council’s rejection of a controversial housing scheme.
Government-appointed Anthony Lyman ruled Oakmere Homes can build 37 homes at Coastal Road, Bolton-le-Sands, because the refusal was not based on planning evidence. The council now has to pay the company’s appeal costs.
A Government circular states only when a party has behaved “unreasonably” and caused the applicant “wasted expense” should costs be awarded.
Oakmere Homes director Chris Middlebrook said he was “very satisfied” with the outcome but Keith Budden, chairman of the council’s planning committee and Bolton-le-Sands Parish Council, defended the original decision.
Mr Middlebrook said: “This development will provide affordable homes which are very much in demand in the area and will offer significant employment for local tradesmen and contractors.”
He added: “The appeal to the Planning Inspectorate has been a costly and time consuming process for both ourselves and the council.”
The exact costs figure is unclear because agreement is yet to be reached, but it will be thousands of pounds.
The Coastal Road development, first mooted in 2011, was opposed by Bolton-le-Sands Parish Council and 1,000 residents who signed a petition.
Their main argument was that there was no need for homes on the greenfield site, 400m off Coastal Road near the canal, because of the number of empty properties in the district.
Mr Lyman ruled the committee’s decision to reject the scheme by a narrow eight-seven vote in August was not supported by technical evidence.
Councillors could not provide information to support their concerns that flooding could occur at the site, even though drainage designs won the support of the Environment Agency and United Utilities who undertook tests. And the council’s own planning officers recommended approval.
Guidelines say councillors do not have to accept officers’ recommendations but must show “reasonable planning grounds” for not doing so.
Allowing the appeal, Mr Lyman said the scheme would boost investment in the economy, create jobs during construction and support shops.
Coun Budden said: “This was an application that was contentious and generated significant local opposition.
“Members were responding to the views expressed by the local community, but those views could not be supported by substantial technical evidence as is required by national planning policy.”
He said the council would consider the judgement and its implications for how it would handle future similar situations.
Peter Griffin, of Coastal Road Action Group, said: “We’re very disappointed as we have been working at the campaign for a couple of years.”
Work on the development of flats, two, three and four-bedroomed houses will start this year.
New access and landscaping will be built at the site, which is part of a wider strip of land allocated for housing.
Oakmere Homes’ long-term plan is for 77 homes there.