Wirral Council has been accused of “unreasonable behaviour” and forced to pay legal costs to a developer after it won a planning appeal for dozens of luxury apartments.
Proposals for 32 new homes to be built on the former fire station in West Kirby were knocked back by the local authority in May last year after it was felt there was no basis for residential development on the site and failed to comply with national planning policy. Previous plans approved to change the fire station into office and retail space never took off.
Last year, the council said, “The proposals do not adopt an integrated approach to the location of housing, economic uses and community facilities and services, and will fail to function well over the lifetime of the development, establish a strong sense of place, or optimise the potential of the site.”
Applicant Blueoak Estates has now won an appeal lodged with the planning inspectorate forcing Wirral Council to pay its full legal costs for “unreasonable behaviour.”
In awarding Blueoak full costs, planning inspector Siobhan Watson was critical of Wirral Council who during the appeal process confirmed it would no longer object to the application on the basis of drainage and “that residential development on the site is acceptable in principle.”
The council argued the application was premature given the local authority’s local plan which sets out future development plans in West Kirby.
Ms Watson said, “The council has not come up with any substantive evidence to show that these options would be unacceptable or to demonstrate how the proposal would prevent the redevelopment and regeneration of the masterplan area.”
The planning inspector said because no master plan for West Kirby had yet been finalised, she was not able to give weight to this.
She said, “It is unreasonable to refuse planning permission on the basis of a document that does not exist. The Council refused the application based upon a somewhat tenuous future scenario. Whilst not expressly set out in the decision notice, on examination of the case, it was evident that planning permission was withheld on the grounds of prematurity.”
Ms Watson added, “In its response to the costs application, the Council claims that circumstances changed after the application was refused. The circumstances, it says, being the submission of the ELP (Emerging Local Plan)” and that the “council’s case was confused and illogical until just before the day of the hearing or my findings regarding prematurity.”
She concluded, “For the reasons given above, unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense has occurred and a full award of costs is therefore warranted.”
The apartments will be a mix of one, two and three bed flats. Six will be affordable and new cycle storage will be provided.
Iain MacLean, Blueoak Estates managing director, said, “We’ve worked incredibly hard to create a design that would not only fit well aesthetically with the surrounding environment, but to ultimately bring a considerable amount of quality homes to this popular town, while reducing development pressure on green belt land.
“We’re very pleased to receive planning approval and are now looking forward to beginning work on the site later this year which we believe will be a catalyst for further regeneration of this popular suburban area.”
Image: Blueoak Estates