ELDC councillors told to ‘Get your finger out’ and support plans for new homes or face Government ‘special measures’

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East Lindsey District Council (ELDC) could face a Government crackdown amid fears too many new housing developments are being rejected.

The News can reveal the council could be placed in special measures because it is danger of falling below a national target figure set for winning planning appeals.

Under recently introduced legislation, the Government could take action against any local authority that fails to win at least 20 per cent of major applications at appeal.

ELDC is currently above that figure with a 55 per cent success rate.

However, councillor Craig Leyland, chairman of the council’s planning policy committee, admits he is concerned by the increasing number of appeals ELDC is facing and the number of major new housing developments being put forward for council consideration.

There are two high-profile appeals pending, both involving leading developers Gladman - one in Horncastle (Langton Hill) and the other in Louth (Southern Gateway).

In some instances - including Louth - councillors on ELDC’s planning committee went against the advice of their own officers.

In what is thought to be an unprecedented move, Coun Leyland has warned councillors about the consequences of rejecting future applications, if they have been recommended for approval by officers.

He admitted all local authorities were coming under increasing Government pressure to build more new homes because of a national shortage.

Coun Leyland said that pressure - combined with stricter rules regarding the criteria for refusing applications - was making it more difficult for councils to defend decisions.

He highlighted the fact the Gladman application for almost 1,000 new homes on the southern outskirts of Louth had been rejected by the committee, against the advice of their own planning officers.

Coun Leyland claimed the reasons for refusing applications could be interpreted as “highly contentious.”

He said he had “tremendous sympathy” with planning committee members who often had the task of balancing the wishes of residents with Government targets.

In a letter sent to all local town and parish councils, Coun Leyland said: “We fully recognise that the Planning Committee is often placed in an impossible position.

“Localism would imply that the local view is paramount, but the National Planning Policy Framework is clearly permissive.

“We also know that local evidence in respect of highways and drainage issues is often expressed very vocally and that our statutory consultees (planning officers) do not always concur with that local view.

“Without statutory support - and even with the benefit of additional independent specialist advice - decisions made against consultee advice are often difficult to defend at appeal.

“While it is recognised that the potential costs of an appeal are not a material planning consideration, we do hope that members of this council do not act without giving due thought and consideration for our professional officer advice.”

Asked to clarify his statement, Coun Leyland admitted he was effectively asking councillors to “get their fingers out” and support the recommendations of officers - even if it meant going against local opinion.

He added: “We are in danger of being placed in special measures relating to quality of decisions. There are serious consequences to this.”

Coun Leyland admitted he was aware councillors could be placed in a difficult position, particularly ahead of next May’s district elections.

He stressed many other local authorities were in a similar position but confirmed a failure to meet targets could see the Government take a more robust role in planning applications, potentially through one of their own appointed inspectors.

The blueprint for future housing developments will be ELDC’s Core Planning Strategy which - among a myriad of things - will identify potential sites and the number of homes that can be built, subject to Government approval.

However, the Core Strategy is unlikely to be completed until after next May’s elections with Coun Leyland saying delays in producing key reports - including a long awaited and crucial County Council traffic survey - were causing further hold ups.