Council compared to ‘Hitler in the bunker’ as Heacham planning inquiry ends

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Council officials have been compared to “Hitler in the bunker” as developers accused them of consistently failing to achieve housing delivery targets.

The claim was made as a public inquiry into a controversial scheme in Heacham closed yesterday.

But lawyers acting for West Norfolk Council insisted the authority was doing all it could to secure adequate stocks of housing land.

Townsfolk and the Broadland Housing Association have been seeking to overturn the council’s decision to refuse planning permission for its proposal to build 70 new homes, 60 sheltered housing units and a 60-bed care home on land off School Road.

The scheme was turned down two years ago, partly because the council maintained it had a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

But, last year, the council lost a High Court challenge to a ruling reversing its decision to block plans for homes on the old Fosters Sports Ground in Clenchwarton because it did not have such supply.

The current inquiry was called after government officials conceded the ruling dismissing the developers’ initial appeal last year should have taken the Clenchwarton case into account.

Last month, the council issued a statement claiming it had now reached the necessary level of avaliable sites.

But, delivering his closing statement to the inquiry yesterday afternoon, Gregory Jones QC, for Townsfolk and Broadland, said the authority had not disclosed information about how the level had been reached even when that statement was made.

He argued that the authority had under-delivered housing for the past eight years and less than half of the projected homes had been built during the first 15 years of its current development plan.

He accused the council of making a “false” assessment that did not take its past record into account.

He added: “This reminds one of the last days of Hitler in the bunker pushing around non-existent regiments.”

But James Perera QC, for the council, rejected the accusations, insisting that officials had worked hard to bring forward new sites for development following the Clenchwarton decision.

He said: “There is nothing else the council could be doing to increase land supply.”

Mr Perera said the council’s assessments showed it now had more than six and a half years of available housing land and claimed the developers had not questioned the status of any other sites in the borough.

And he argued that any shortcomings in the authority’s assessments were not significant enough to justify the granting of planning permission.

The two sides also clashed over the need for the care facilities that are envisaged as part of the development and its impact on the landscape.

Mr Jones described the need for additional elderly care provision in the area as “chronic” and claimed the council had failed to properly allow for it in its land allocations.

But Mr Perera denied that, describing the need as “contemporary and future.”

And he pointed out that Norfolk County Council was responsible for social care needs.

The authority also maintains that the development would have an unacceptable impact on the nearby area of outstanding natural beauty.

However, the developer argues that the approval of other schemes in the area showed there was an increasing urbanisation of the area.

Planning inspector David Spencer indicated that he hopes to complete his report in July.