PLANNERS have approved an appeal to build 58 homes on a vacant greenbelt farm site after it was initially refused.

The Planning Inspectorate allowed the plans despite Bolton Council turning away developer Hollins Wingates in December last year.

Inspectors acknowledged local fears that the development in Wingates Lane, Westhoughton, could impact the appearance of the surrounding area, as well as increasing traffic and potentially causing flooding problems because of a lack of sewer capacity.

But, in his assessment of the plans, planning inspector Bryn Bowker said: “The council acknowledge that they cannot currently demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land and this provides a clear indication of an unmet housing need.”

Planning guideline suggest that, when these needs are made clear, the decision should come down to whether “adverse impacts” of the plan would “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits”, which Mr Bowker said would not be the case.

He acknowledged the potential “limited and localised” issue of whether the development suits the character of the area but said the Highways Authority has raised no objection to the development on the grounds of traffic or pedestrian safety.

He explained: “The proposal would make a sizeable contribution towards housing supply, which a suitably worded condition would ensure the timely delivery of. In addition, the proposal would provide 21 on site affordable houses.

“Furthermore, the proposal would contribute towards construction employment and future residents would support and have access to services and facilities at Westhoughton.”

The decision is the latest in a string of similar approved appeals in the area and has raised anger among local councillors who have repeatedly opposed the plans.

However, Westhoughton North and Chew Moor representative Cllr Zoe Kirk-Robinson points to the lack of a five-year housing supply plan. She puts the absence of this plan down to delays to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

“The council has known it doesn’t have this five-year supply for years now, ever since the Hill Lane, Blackrod appeal decision in 2016,” she said. “Without a five-year plan, the inspector is required to allow appeals unless there is overwhelming evidence to prevent the development.

“We thought we had provided sufficient evidence but, sadly, he weighted that evidence a little less strongly than we did.

“We don’t have a five-year housing plan because Labour is still holding out on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework arriving; but that could be years away and it keeps getting pushed back.”

Westhoughton South councillor David Chadwick disagreed, saying that the lack of a housing plan comes down in part to changes in the law brought in in 2013 by the coalition government and calling on national planners to stop approving these appeals.

He also pointed to a government inquiry in 2011 which suggested the council’s housing site supply was sufficient, which was not challenged until 2016.

He said: “I’m devastated that the inspector has allowed the appeal by the developer. This is another example where the planning inspectors have no idea of the impact of development like this in Westhoughton.”

Earlier this week Cllr Martin Donaghy told The Bolton News that greenbelt sites in Bolton could be saved if the government agreed to changes in population predictions by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

If the new figures were accepted the Greater Manchester housing supply estimate would drop from 211,000 to 153,000, meaning only 14,200 homes would be needed in Bolton over the next 20 years, all of which could be built on brownfield sites.

He linked the change to the development of a new five-year plan, which he agreed would stop developers from submitting future plans on a “speculative basis”.