WELLINGTON residents are feeling no better off after council planners explained their decisions over a housing appeal that was always considered 'risky'.

During a special meeting of Wellington Town Council on Monday (August 13), assistant director of planning for Taunton Deane Borough Council, Tim Burton, was invited alongside portfolio holder Cllr Richard Parrish to justify the outcome of the recent planning appeal for Bagley Road, Rockwell Green.

The council backed down on the refusal of the plan for 205 homes and 60 care apartments from Gladman Land Ltd, which the Deane rejected in April last year.

A stop-start appeal commenced in February, but was adjourned twice, before concluding in July 2018 after TDBC's legal team said Gladman's representatives had 'adequately addressed' their concerns.

The planning experts were called to the meeting to justify their decision to back down on their legal arguments to the town councillors and some 25 residents who turned out to hear the explanations.

The opening question from mayor of Wellington, Cllr Gary James, kicked off the discussion, asking the assistant director: 'does the core strategy have any value?'.

A handful of residents spoke at the meeting, saying the core strategy (documents implemented by the council to determine developments) has been left 'as useful as a chocolate teapot' and with 'more holes than Swiss cheese'.

Cllr Parrish said: "This was a very technical appeal. We want to be open and honest.

"If the pot needs to be called black it will be.

"Things can only be done in accordance with planning law. Does this mean every appeal will be overturned - the answer is no."

Mr Burton explained how the refusal for the application was based in policy, ie the location not being in the Deane's allocated areas for development, which makes it more difficult to defend than if there was a larger issue at play, ie a transport issue.

Mr Burton, who took responsibility for the decision to back down on the appeal, said: "The problems were based in policy, which is more difficult to defend.

"A significant amount would have been awarded in costs against the council if we proceeded with the appeal. It was a decision of throwing away public money."

Mr Burton explained how all policy becomes out of date with new guidance, but despite the new planning policy framework, Mr Burton insisted the core strategy was not 'out of date'.

He also explained how an agreement had been reached that saw the council pay no money in costs.

Mr Burton said through advice from the Deane's legal team, following the cross examination, it was decided the policy would not hold up. He added he always considered this appeal to be a 'risky' one - though did not make his thoughts known at the time, nor did he speak in support of the appeal.

Cllr Ross Henley questioned why the flaw in TDBC's arguments had not been spotted before the appeal commenced.

He said: "The policy is clearly flawed and not robust.

"We have been let down. Why wasn't it discovered at the time the policy was not robust?"

Cllr Parrish defended the policy in question, saying it had 'never been successfully challenged' before. Mr Burton added the Deane had an 'above average' history of defending planning appeals.

Cllr Andy Govier said: "I was surprised and disappointed with the decision.

"We have to make tough decisions about where developments go. I was falsely under the impression that this was enough.

"What can we do to protect other sites?"

Cllr Govier considered restarting the process of creating a neighbourhood plan, but did not want to go down this path if it was going to be a 'waste of time'.

Mr Burton said: "I would never advise councils to prepare a neighbourhood plan with the intention of thwarting developments."

Cllr Govier said this was not his intention, but wanted to confirm if it was worth it before lots of time and energy went into the proposals.