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Gloucestershire Business News

UPDATE: Gove intervention on 350-homes plans "bizarre" say Cheltenham bosses

Council bosses have said Micheal Gove pulling rank to decide an application for 350 homes in Cheltenham is "bizarre" and "confusing".

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has said he will make the final decision on controversial proposals for land off Shurdington Road.

Members of Cheltenham Borough Council planning committee said they had been kept in the dark about why he had decided to do so and annoyed by incorrect reporting over the situation.

Cllr Paul Baker (LD, Charlton Park) chair of the committee, said the decision over the scheme, which includes 140 "desperately needed" affordable homes, has now been unnecessarily delayed.

He said: "It seems really bizarre because it went to appeal and we actually had the hearing. At the beginning the inspector had the authority to make the decision and by the end they did not.

"We haven't been given an explanation as to why the Secretary of State has stepped in, if I was cynical I would say it was political."

The Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, has written to Mr Gove expressing her support for the development and calling the protracted inquiry 'incomprehensible' according to a report by The Times.

If the plans go through the estate would be 40% affordable housing with 41 social rented homes, 57 affordable rented homes and 42 shared ownership homes.

The other homes would be a mix of 49 two-bed, 116 three-bed, 40 four-bed and five five-bed.

Cheltenham Borough Council threw out initial plans for the Diocese-owned land in May 2022 as they said the design was too damaging to the environment because each home contained a gas boiler.

The application (20/01788/FUL) also garnered more than 200 objections from residents- many of which related to concerns about road safety and congestion.

Cllr Baker said while residents had legitimate concerns, the county highways experts raised no objection to the scheme so the committee had to follow their professional advice and could not use this as grounds for refusal.

Housebuilder Miller Homes appealed the council's decision  and a letter from March this year submitted as part of the appeals process stated the Secretary of State believed the proposal "would not be likely to have significant effect on the environment".

In the meantime, Miller also came up with a scheme that addressed the council's concerns by utilising air source heat pumps and solar panels instead of gas boilers.

An appeal hearing was held by the Planning Inspectorate on July 4 and during the course of this process the inspector was informed they no longer had the authority to make the decision and it would be made by Mr Gove.

At a meeting of the planning committee on August 17 Cllr Emma Nelson (Con, Leckhampton) complained she had only become aware of this when it was reported in the media.

Mike Holmes, CBC interim head of planning, said letters had been sent by the Planning Inspectorate to all the parties recorded as attending the hearing but sometimes people forget to sign in at meetings.

He updated councillors on the situation and said: "The process will now be that the planning Inspectorate will provide a report to the Secretary of State who will consider the report and then make a decision.

"We have no indication of when that decision will be.

"Members will be aware of course, the reasons for refusal were addressed at the informal hearing, so it's a bit of a confusing situation. I understand that."

Cllr Nelson questioned how the decision could be "'called in" by Mr Gove at this stage in the process.

Mr Holmes said: "The Secretary of State delegates the decision making on appeals to the Planning Inspectorate but retains the right to make that decision himself."

Cheryl Lester, council solicitor, said: "There is a confusion of terminology. Calling in is what a lay member might say but if you've had an appeal and the secretary says I want to make that decision myself, it's actually technically a recovered appeal.

"So he's recovered his authority to decide it himself."

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