Inspector Geoffrey Hill's verdict is revealed today in a recovered appeal decision on an outline application for up to 880 homes on 43.4 hectares of mainly agricultural land to the south of Crewe.
Appellant HIMOR Group launched an appeal after Cheshire East Council failed to determine the application on time.
In a decision letter issued today, communities secretary Eric Pickles dismissed the appeal, but agreed with the inspector’s conclusion that Cheshire East Council cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.
In July 2014, the former planning minister Nick Boles wrote to the inspector dealing with the appeal requesting that he give "especial attention" to Cheshire East’s five-year housing land supply and to give a "considered view".
Boles pointed out that "there have been a number of appeal decisions issued by [PINS] which have come to differing conclusions" on whether Cheshire East can demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, a requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework.
In today's decision letter, Pickles agreed with the inspector's conclusion that the council's "understanding of whether there has been a persistent under-supply is not well founded".
The note added: "He therefore also agrees with the inspector that, adopting a 20 per cent buffer, the council could not demonstrate a five-year supply of available sites in accordance with the expectations of the framework and the guidance: and he further agrees that the appropriateness of a five per cent buffer and of the council's view of the number of building sites currently available are contentious."
The inspector’s own report pointed out that the council believes it can demonstrate a five-year supply.
But it said: "In my view, the council’s position on housing supply has been inconsistent in how it conforms with NPPF and PPG guidance, and its understanding of whether there has been a persistent under-supply is not well founded."
Dismissing the appeal, Pickles concluded that, while there would be a number of benefits deriving from the scheme, including the provision of much-needed housing, he weighed these against the "arguably premature loss" of part of the green gap between Crewe and Shavington.
"The secretary of state acknowledges that the green gap has been part of a long established and well-recognised local policy which forms part of a sustainable development," the decision letter said.
"Therefore, while he accepts that the idea of an extended green belt around Crewe may be uncertain, he also agrees that a decision to allow development on the appeal site could reasonably be seen to pre-empt or prejudice the outcome of the local plan examination."