Three national housebuilders have been accused of ‘corporate bullying’ after threatening to take Cheshire West and Chester Council to court over the widely acclaimed Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan.
Taylor Wimpey, Barratt Homes and Wainhomes want the authority to rescind the Executive decision to approve the plan and suspend the referendum scheduled for October 24.
They also threaten to include council chief executive Steve Robinson as referendum counting officer in the action.
Lawyers acting on their behalf have sent the authority a letter before claim under judicial review pre-action protocols based on a number of technical grounds and questioning the impartiality of the independent examiner Nigel McGurk.
The claimants assert that at the time of the examination, Mr McGurk was a non-executive director of Himor (Land) Ltd, part of the Himor Group – a strategic land company promoting a 26-acre urban extension at Hoole Gate, Chester.
Hoole Gate, they indicate, is one of a number of such extensions being promoted through the emerging local plan including competing sites being promoted by claimants.
But yesterday (Wednesday) council leader Mike Jones dismissed the claims as ‘highly regrettable corporate bullying of a local community’.
He revealed that his authority would continue to back the plan – and the counting officer intended to hold the referendum as planned.
Taylor Wimpey have applied to build 110 homes at Chester Road; Wainhomes Developments, 137 homes on land at Greenlands and Barratts, 68 homes on land opposite Brookhall Cottages.
But the Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan – the first in the borough – advocates that ‘large scale, inappropriate development along existing village boundaries will not be supported by the community’.
The plan suggests that future development is limited to housing groups of no more than 30.
Cllr Jones said: “Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan represents over two years of hard work by a local community dedicated to producing its vision for the future development of the village and its surrounding areas.
“It would be absolutely tragic if such dedication and commitment was threatened simply because the plan’s recommendations differed from developers’ requirements.”
Cllr Herbert Manley, Executive member for growth and innovation, stressed the authority had every confidence in its choice of independent examiner totally rejecting claims of ‘apparent bias’.
Cllr Manley said: “Our lawyers are adamant there are no grounds to suggest that the examiner could have been biased with regard to Tattenhall, simply because he was a non-executive director of a company involved in a totally unrelated proposal at Chester.
“Our legal advice is there are no legal or factual grounds to doubt the examiner’s report. The developers did not complain about Mr McGurk’s appointment prior to the examination or during any hearing.”
In his report Mr McGurk states that more than 4,000 volunteer hours had been put into the neighbourhood plan prior to examination – “a phenomenal example of civic responsibility and community spirit”.
The Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan provides a framework for sustainable development for a village which has attracted numerous development applications from house-builders and takes precedence over the local plan on non-strategic issues.
Paul Lunt of Brabners, the solicitor representing the three house builders, said yesterday the companies had no comment to make at this time.