VALE Royal Borough Council has sensationally overturned a decision by its own planning committee and given the go-ahead to proposals for 1,200 new homes on former industrial land in Northwich.
Members of Vale Royal's planning committee had voted by 6-7 to reject controversial proposals put forward by the Winnington Urban Village Consortium which would have seen the regeneration of an industrial eyesore.
That was despite a recommendation that the application be approved from Vale Royal's own planning chief.
But that decision was scrutinised by the full council on Thursday night, when councillors finally gave the project the green light.
That has prevented a potentially expensive public inquiry into the decision, which would have cost taxpayers thousands of pounds and would, in all probability, have been won by the consortium.
Work is now expected to begin on the former Wallerscote Works site next year, with the first homes likely to become available for occupation in 2006. About 120 properties a year would be completed, with the entire development expected to be finished by 2016.
Mark Chitty, from Northwich soda ash firm Brunner Mond, the leading company in the consortium, said: 'We are delighted that the proposals for this unique opportunity to regenerate a massive redundant site in Northwich have been approved.
'The urban village is a high quality scheme which will significantly raise the profile of the area, create new homes and new community facilities and stimulate investor confidence in the town.
'As the owner of much of the land to be developed, the proceeds from the urban village development are also a vital part of Brunner Mond's plan to continue operating successfully in our fiercely competitive marketplace and secure our future as a key employer in Northwich.'
A previous application had already been turned down by the planning committee but, despite working with the council and the team behind the Northwich Vision to help solve the potential problems, consortium bosses were left stunned when the application was turned down again.
Despite being told their objections would be difficult to uphold at a costly public inquiry which the consortium had promised to force, the committee refused the application as many of the members still had concerns over traffic issues.
These concerns were voiced again at the full council meeting on Thursday but the council was told that four traffic surveys had been carried out and that they all came to the same conclusion - that it would be impossible to refuse the application on traffic issues.
Cllr Leslie Ford, who seconded the motion to approve the application, said the urban village was an essential part of the town's future.
He said: 'I think we have come to a point where the planning issues have now been aired. This is far too big to be looked at as a planning matter now - we cannot ignore this site, as it is derelict.
'If this application had gone to appeal I would have suggested a reality check is in serious need. To vote against these proposals would have been utterly irresponsible.'
The council held a recorded vote, with 24 members backing the application, six voting against and four abstaining.