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A group working to restore the Lichfield Canal say they could seek a Judicial Review following the decision to give the green light to a new housing development in the city.
Deanslade Park will see 475 homes built on land between Falkland Road and the Birmingham Road.
Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust had challenged the proposals after seeking legal advice over the fact the developers were not funding a bridge for the restored Lichfield Canal through Section 106 funds.
The developers had argued that the bridge was off-site and therefore should be funded by the Community Infrastructure Levy.
But a spokesperson for the trust said the issue, along with the impact of the development on the work to restore the canal, would have “serious implications” on the project as a whole.
“Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust is very disturbed that the planning application for the Deanslade Park housing site has been approved by Lichfield District Council’s Planning Committee without inclusion of the canal bridge and canal channel works required by the council’s own Development Plan to safeguard the continuing restoration of the Lichfield Canal.
“The background to this is that wording about the canal infrastructure that had been agreed between the trust, Inland Waterways Association (IWA) and council officers responsible for finalising the Local Plan Strategy in 2015 was not included in the adopted plan, and we have a letter admitting that error of omission.
“That letter went on to offer the Trust reassurance that the Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP) would recognise and overcome that omission.
“But when this planning application was considered by the planning committee in July 2018, the planning officer erroneously reported the trust and IWA’s comments on a quite different application.
“Following our formal complaints this was corrected, but despite several deferments and rewrites of the committee report since then to correct a whole series of further errors, the officers’ advice to the committee has continued to misrepresent the funding requirements for the canal works, leading to a decision which is legally unsound.”
“A serious threat to the restoration of the canal”
The trust said it had no issue in the decision to develop houses on the land, but said it was important that the council applied policies correctly.
The spokesperson added: “The trust is not against the development itself and recognises that local authorities are under enormous pressure to achieve housing targets, but it strongly believes that the Local Plan Strategy and IDP requirement for the canal bridge at Claypit Lane and associated works to be funded by the developer should be enforced.
“The trust is, unlike many other canal restoration groups, wholly charitably funded – it gets no funding or in-kind support from Lichfield District Council.
“It is the trust’s position, fully endorsed by submitted formal opinions from a planning expert barrister, that council officers have wrongly interpreted their own Development Plan and associated documents, and have therefore not advised planning committee councillors correctly.
“It was a small comfort to those of us who attended the meeting that those councillors present were clearly deeply concerned about the dilemma they faced and most made reference to the enormous value of the work being done by the trust.
“As this is a serious threat to the continued restoration of the canal, the trustees will be carefully considering the next steps, which could include taking the decision to a Judicial Review.”