Berkeley Homes proceeds with Cranbrook challenge

REJECTED PLANS: The proposed Berkeley Homes development in Cranbrook

Berkeley Homes is challenging the Government’s decision to overturn approval for a property development in Cranbrook, as the Times reported on May 3.

The project to build 165 houses in Cranbrook – approved by the local authority and central government’s Planning Inspectorate – was rejected by Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Local Communities (DLUHC) in April.

Speaking last week, after the end of local election ‘purdah’, Cllr Hugo Pound, who has previously held the Housing and Planning portfolio, called the Government’s decision an “extraordinary intervention”.

He told the Times: “It is the first time a Secretary of State has overturned the decision made by the Council Planning Committee.”

When the decision was referred to the Government and an inquiry was held, the Inspector had recommended the development, subject to conditions, but “with some strong words of approval, which were quite interesting,” said Mr Pound.

“The Inspector was pretty damned positive about it,” he said.

Meanwhile, he explained, the Borough “was under pressure, both from government housing targets and from its own demographics”.

“The 25-49-year-old population is going down. Young people cannot afford to stay here, and they cannot afford to move here,” Mr Pound explained.

“Michael Gove has interfered in local democracy and local decision-making,” he added.

Cllr Pound appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ last week, to argue the case alongside fellow representative Cllr Nancy Warne (Benenden & Cranbrook), who has held the local authority’s Rural Communities portfolio.

She told the programme: “I didn’t engage in the Neighbourhood Planning process to fight development. We want development. We need houses. Our young people are desperate. We don’t have anything that they can afford to live in.”

However, she said: “I think this is a very special landscape and a really special town. I think we have some really distinctive architecture. I’d like someone to come and do something really special here. It doesn’t have to be a pastiche.”

And she added that objections were not just about the detail of the design, but also about the layout.

“We have a very distinctive settlement pattern in this area, of farmsteads dotted around the countryside, and what is being proposed here is a very generic housing estate.”

Approached by the Times for comment, the Berkeley Group said it was applying to the High Court for a statutory review of Secretary of State Michael Gove’s decision.

“Berkeley is challenging the decision on six grounds, including the individual design of the homes,” a spokesperson said.

“The proposal for 165 high-quality, individually designed new homes (including 66 affordable homes) was developed in close consultation with local partners and had strong support at local level.

“Approved by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and also by The Planning Inspectorate (an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), it was vetoed by Mr Gove after a three-year planning process,” the spokesperson added.

The Times understands the case could take six months to a year to come to court, which means it might not be held until after the general election.

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