Controversial plans to develop over 360 homes in Llay have been given the go ahead on appeal, despite fierce opposition from a group of local campaigners and local councillors voting against it.
The plans for Gresford Road in Llay have been approved by First Minister Carwyn Jones after being subject to a planning appeal.
Plans for the development, which include 365 houses and a retail unit were lodged in outline form with Wrexham Council in December 2014. However the proposals were rejected by members of the planning committee in October 2015 after they raised concerns about the development falling outside the settlement limit and the increased pressure on local infrastructure.
An appeal by the applicants was lodged shortly afterwards and an inquiry into the the proposed took place in November 2016. Of the 365 dwellings, 91 would be provided as affordable housing.
After months of waiting, delayed due to the recent elections, campaigners yesterday found out that the development had been recommended for approval by Planning Inspectorate Richard Duggan and had been signed off by the First Minister.
The lengthy appeal document outlines the arguments presented during the inquiry by both the Appellant and Wrexham Council. The documents are not yet online, but we will link to them as and when they are.
One of the key concerns raised by members of the planning committee in 2015 was the location of the development and it falling outside the defined settlement limit.
However in his report the Planning Inspectorate notes that there is nothing “illogical about expansion” in the north east of Llay and that the development would not lead to the “coalescence of settlements”.
He continues onto say: “It is clear that settlement boundaries that may have existed at one time or another in Llay have been continually expanded and renewed, including development leaping over the strong physical feature of the Nant-y–Gaer wood and valley.”
Fears about the impact such a development could have on the local infrastructure, including the increased traffic on an already busy stretch of road, were also raised along with the new police HQ being sited nearby with 350 staff.
Many concerns from residents during the campaign centred on the likely increase of people using both the local health centre and the primary school.
In the appeal document it is noted that the ‘local health centre wrote to Llay Community Council in February 2015 stating their strong opposition to the development due to increased patient numbers and the inability to develop the practice in Llay’.
But the Planning Inspectorate explains in his report that the ‘Health Board did not respond to the application and the Education Authority raised no objection, subject to contributions towards primary and secondary education’.
He later adds: “If those authorities do not engage in the process that is not the fault of the Appellant regardless of how frustrating it might be for local residents; it is those bodies that have the statutory duty to provide education and healthcare, and it is up to them to seek contributions where necessary.”
Speaking after the results of the appeal, Llay Councillor Rob Walsh said he was disappointed with both the Planning Inspector and the First Minister for approving the development.
Cllr Walsh continued: “The Planning Inspector’s report plays down all the genuine concerns that were raised by local residents at the appeal hearing in November. Makes me wonder whether we were at the same hearing.
“No respect has been shown to Wrexham Council`s UDP settlement limit, which is there for a reason. This will now send out a message to developers that it is open season in Wrexham for large scale housing applications.
“I appreciate First Minister Carwyn Jones, has been placed in a difficult position by the Planning Inspector’s recommendation to grant the development.
“However, Wrexham Council’s Planning Committee went against their officers` recommendation for grant. They listened to the people, shame Wales` First Minister could not. No wonder the public are losing faith in democracy.
He added: “I would like to say a big thank you to everyone involved in this campaign. So many people have worked so hard to try and stop this development. Despite this massive slap in the face, the people can hold their heads high. You have done your best for our community.”
The decision has also been criticised by Plaid Cymru Councillor Marc Jones, who said the decision by the Planning Inspectorate “undermines the democratic decision of the planning committee locally”.
“The plan for the 365 sits outside the agreed settlement limit,” said Cllr Jones.
“The Planning Inspectorate chose to ignore this on the basis that there is insufficient land supply in the council’s old development plan.
“This ignores the fact that the Welsh Government rejected a perfectly sound Local Development Plan (LDP) back in 2012 that would have ensured sufficient land for housing development. Instead ministers chose to insist on a new plan that would have increased housing in Wrexham by at least 5,000 homes in the coming decade.
“The Government has since revised that figure down to something very similar to the original LDP. So we’re back at square one at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the local council.
“But far worse than this is the fact that local communities such as Llay have been left defenceless against speculative developers who have seen an opportunity to take advantage of the lack of a development plan, which protects green spaces such as this.”
He added:”The people affected by this decision in Llay have every right to be furious with the Welsh Government for allowing this to happen in the first place.”
The lengthy documents accompanying the reasoning includes various contributors to the Inquiry, including one note that states in December 2014 a request for a single dwelling on Gegin Lane, adjacent to the site in question, was recommended for refusal ‘as it would be unsatisfactory and undesirable as it would be a greenfield site outside any settlement limits and it would be detrimental to the countryside and would represent an undesirable visual intrusion into the landscape’.
Originally there were 185 objections, including written representations and a petition with 265 signatures, with a further 23 letters of objection included in the appeal, received from concerned residents and Mr Ian Lucas MP.
Due to the nature of the process, the final decision is personally signed off by the First Minister, Carwyn Jones