A TORY councillor has slammed a decision by a government planning inspector to allow two houses to be built by The Red Cat pub in Crank.

The pub’s operator, Punch Taverns, submitted the plans in August 2019, but they were rejected by St Helens Council via delegated powers in October.

However, Punch was successful in an appeal and got the decision overturned by the Planning Inspectorate. The proposals, which received a number of objections from residents, are now under construction.

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The plans include associated car parking, landscaping, and other ancillary works, along with the reconfiguration of the pub’s car park.

Councillors discussed the appeal at St Helens Council’s first virtual planning committee meeting on Tuesday.

St Helens Star: The Red Cat pub's car parkThe Red Cat pub's car park

Melanie Hale, the council’s service manager for development and building control, said a number of applications at the site had been rejected previously.

She said the current application was different as it proposed access from Highfield Drive, a residential cul-de-sac, as opposed to through the pub car park.

Planning officers refused the plans due to the harm they believed it would do to the surrounding area, but the government’s planning inspector did not agree.

Ms Hale said: “We were extremely disappointed, but I think what it points to is the government wanting to get houses out of the ground quite frankly.

“They saw an opportunity, and whilst we didn’t refuse it on need, this was an opportunity to grant permission for housing.

“They didn’t agree there was harm, we did, and so they decided to grant planning permission.”

Cllr Allan Jones, leader of the St Helens Conservatives, said he was “disgusted” by the planning inspector’s decision.

The Rainford ward councillor told the committee that residents are seeking legal advice as there is a dispute about who owns the access land.

Cllr Jones said: “First of all, I want to say I’m disgusted with the decision of the inspector. We threw this out, or the council threw it out, but that is a decision.

“I just want the committee to be aware that the residents are seeking legal advice on it.”

Cllr John Fulham, Labour councillor for Moss Bank, asked for details on how much money fighting the appeal cost the council.

He said: “I think it’s really important for those watching at home or wherever they’re watching, they understand that, we operate in a really tight framework of decision that we can take and our discretion while we have some is limited, and where we step outside that discretion the inspector will intervene and make the decision over our heads.

“And that comes at a cost both to the local authority and to the local taxpayer.”

St Helens Star: Cllr Allan Jones, leader of the Conservative group on St Helens Council Cllr Allan Jones, leader of the Conservative group on St Helens Council

Ms Hale said the cost of fighting the appeal was “possibly in four figures”.

She said it was dealt with by a senior officer, who spent a considerable amount of time on the case.

Ms Hale assured councillors that officers consider “very carefully” when it’s going to refuse planning permission.

This particular application, she said, was refused for three reasons – all of which the government’s planning inspector disagreed with.

Ms Hale said: “One was detrimental impact on character appearance for the area, particularly the dwellings on Highfield Drive and also the proximity of future residents to the car park of the Red Cat, and potential impact on living conditions.

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“We were also concerned about the reconfiguration of the Red Cat car park, and that it would potentially result in on-street parking, and there wasn’t adequate servicing and manoeuvring space.

“And also finally that there was slight encroachment into the green belt.

“And the inspector disagreed with us on all counts, which we were very disappointed by to be honest with you.”