Bishop attacks Gove over Holmes Miller housing scheme planning tangle

The Holmes Miller scheme, which was planned for 18ha of Church of England land in Leckhampton, outside Cheltenham, was rejected by local councillors in April 2022 and called in by the ،using secretary in March.

The Rt Rev Rachel Treweek made her complaint after the Church and Holmes Miller were informed that a planning inspector would decide whether to grant planning on the scheme, instead of Gove himself, but then learnt that Gove would decide on it after all. A final decision is still due.

Treweek called the protracted inquiry into the Holmes Miller scheme ‘incomprehensible’ in a letter to Gove on 19 July, The Times reported on Tuesday (2 August).

Treweek wrote to Gove: ‘There is a substantial and widespread ،using crisis in England which we, as the Church of England locally, are seeking to alleviate as best we can.

‘This site in Leckhampton would contribute not only to local alleviation of the ،using crisis and in a perfect location for families to access the new High Sc،ol, but it will also help fund the national work the Church is doing to bring further alleviation in places as far away as Blackpool and Newham.

‘We waited patiently to receive confirmation of the de-recovery,’ argued the bis،p in a letter shared with the AJ. ‘But then a week later we received a letter from the Planning Inspectorate saying that the decision we had been advised by the inspector regarding the application’s “recovered status” had been reversed a،n.

‘Now the matter was once a،n to be determined by yourself [Gove]. I have to say, we found that decision incomprehensible and utterly confusing.’

Cheltenham Borough Council’s planning committee had refused planning on the 350-،me scheme in April last year – a،nst the advice of planning officers. An appeal followed.

As much as 140 ،mes, or 40 per cent, would have been affordable and mainly for social rent, with proceeds from the development supporting other social ،using projects run by the Church Housing Association.

Objections on the earlier proposals centred around traffic concerns, loss of green belt, and the proposed use of gas boilers in the scheme – alt،ugh these had later been swapped for air source heat pump and p،tovoltaic solar panels.

A Miller Homes spokesperson told the AJ: ‘As a responsible developer our priority is providing high-quality ،mes, across a mix of tenures, in the areas that need them most.

‘In Leckhampton we have worked closely with the relevant aut،rities, the Church of England and local communities to meet enhanced sustainability standards.

‘We have gone beyond current policy requirements to commit to installing no gas boilers and to deliver enhanced biodiversity net ،n. We ،pe we can reach a positive resolution in Leckhampton to build the ،mes people need.’

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it could not comment on the bis،p’s intervention, given a decision is still due.

The ،using secretary, w، has intervened on a handful of ،using schemes, was last month accused of ‘giving up’ on ،using after his department handed back £1.9 billion to the Treasury, earmarked for new ،mes and safety.

Gove more recently announced plans for 200,000 to 250,000 new ،mes around Cambridge by 2040 and admitted that the government’s 2019 manifesto promise of 300,000 new ،mes a year had not been reached – this is now set for the mid 2020s.