Developers behind a scheme to build more than 50 flats above a row of empty shops in town have won an appeal against a decision to revoke permission after work had begun.
Councillors originally gave the go ahead for the proposals on Henblas Square in November last year in a bid to regenerate the largely vacant retail area.
The plans were authorised subject to the Mandale Group paying a sum approaching £300,000 towards the cost of affordable housing elsewhere in the county.
However, members of Wrexham Council’s planning committee later withdrew their approval in April after the the firm tried to reduce the amount to just under £29,000.
The County Durham based property developers claimed the original figure would have resulted in them making a loss on the 53 properties, but some politicians accused the company of trying to mislead them.
The work is now expected to get back underway though after a planning inspector appointed by the Welsh Government overturned the local authority’s decision.
Kay Sheffield said no evidence had been put forward to cast doubt on the financial viability assessment put forward by the firm and awarded costs against the council after accusing the committee of acting unreasonably.
In her decision notice, she said: “The council, as part of its appeal submissions, has questioned several figures in the appraisals.
“In respect of the original appraisal I am satisfied that the inconsistencies are due to the figures for one unit having been omitted from the spreadsheet and do not consider that the profit level was incorrectly assessed.
“From my examination of the figures I have no reason to dispute the findings of the updated appraisal.
“On balance, I consider that the financial viability of the proposed development would be genuinely threatened if a commuted sum which reflects the equivalent provision of 25 per cent affordable housing was required and I conclude that a reduced commuted sum is justified in this instance.
“Whilst I understand that a reduced financial contribution will affect the delivery of affordable housing, there is no substantive evidence as to the harm the shortfall in the commuted sum would cause.”
During April’s meeting, some councillors said they wanted to take a stand against the firm for attempting to get out of an already agreed condition.
However, speaking after the debate, council leader Mark Pritchard warned that the committee’s decision could have damaged attempts to regenerate the town centre.
The shopping area has been abandoned by several major retailers in recent years, including TJ Hughes, BHS, The Entertainer and Evans clothing, although it was recently buoyed by the news that Sports Direct and the town’s Techniquest science centre are due to move in.
In awarding costs against the authority, Ms Sheffield said members had not supported their arguments with enough proof.
She said: “It is acknowledged that members of the council are entitled to take a different view from officers.
“However, in doing so, the council is expected to demonstrate that it had reasonable planning grounds for taking a decision contrary to such advice and produce relevant evidence to support its decision.
“I am not satisfied by the evidence that the council has demonstrated that the viability appraisals were inaccurate and there is no substantive evidence of the harm a reduced commuted sum would cause to the supply of affordable housing and why this warranted the stance the council took.
“I therefore conclude that the council has acted unreasonably having regard to the advice contained in the annex and an award of costs is justified.”
By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).
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