The developer hoped to widen an existing consent for retirement living. Credit: planning documents

Mandale defeated in Yarm appeal

A planning inspector has upheld Stockton-on-Tees Council’s rejection of proposals for 215 homes at Mount Leven Farm.

Development at the site has become contentious in the decade since a retirement village was consented at the site.

There are existing consents in place, dating back to 2013 (outline) and 2016 (detailed) for a retirement village, but the only construction completed from that time is an access roundabout – although a country park relating to the site has also been approved.

Rather than commit to an age-restriction, Mandale Homes had focused on making all the housing accessible and adaptable in its reworked application.

Since the consents were granted, the site has been allocated for housing within the Local Plan, with the appeal site taking up around 31 of the area’s 74-acre total allocation.

In its 2021 application, narrowly defeated at committee, Mandale had put forward plans for 215 homes divided into four “village” sections, including 43 affordable homes, 35 of which would be bungalows.

As set out by planning inspector Susan Hunt at the July appeal, the issues under consideration were fourfold:

  • Whether the proposed development would adequately meet the needs of the ageing population
  • Whether the existing Mount Leven roundabout is safe and suitable to serve the proposed development, effects on highway safety, and accessibility of the site
  • The effects of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area
  • The effects of the proposed development on green space, with particular reference to the River Leven valley.

On the first, substantial, issue, the inspector came down firmly on the side of the council’s interpretation of local planning policy, referring to a criterion specifically relating to “meeting the needs of the ageing population”.

The issue at point was a specific reference ot Mount Leven (part of) which shouldn’t need to meet this requirement. The council said this looser part of the planning requirement referred specifically to 14 homes off Busby Way, allowed at appeal in 2015, while Mandale and its advisor ELG Planning interpreted it as having relevance across the wider site.

Although agreeing that some wording in the planning conditions was unusual, the inspector agreed with the council: “When reading the Local Plan as a whole, and specifically policies H1 and H4 together, it is clear that the vast majority of the allocation should continue to meet the specific needs of the ageing population. I agree with the Council that the Busby Way development site is the only part of the commitment exempt from this.”

As for access, the inspector said that while the roundabout would serve car users, there “is a lack of detailed evidence” that the development can be made safely accessible to non-car users, and that new pathway access was a must.

That was by no means all: on character and appearance the developer also failed to woo the inspector, who made comparisons to the bungalows in the previously approved scheme, making sharp criticisms of the largely two-storey homes proposed as “bland and generic” summing up: “I am not persuaded that the scheme for the two-storey dwellings represents a high quality and beautiful development”. It was only in the area of green space that Mandale’s proposals won a pass mark.

Among “other considerations” was a section on nitrogen levels in the River Tees, an issue that has arisen since the initial proposals, with local policy taking shape earlier this year.

Mandale has not stood still while the appeal process has been taking place. A fresh application for a 68-bed care home within the site was lodged in April this year, while in June approval was given for a variation to the consented layout of the 14-home Busby Way project, to provide a footpath link from the Mount Leven site through to Busby Way, opening up access to bus routes.

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