Parish councils are fighting the borough council’s decision not to submit evidence to defend the reasons for refusing Eddie Stobart’s proposals to build a warehouse at an appeal.
The logistics firm’s proposals to construct a £75 million national distribution centre on green belt land were turned down by the authority in November but it later lodged an appeal, as well as submitting a fresh planning application.
Councillors turned it down as they decided the economic benefits did not outweigh harm to the green belt, as well as objecting on the grounds of prematurity.
But the Labour-run authority has decided not to submit evidence to defend the reasons for refusal at an appeal scheduled to be heard in autumn.
It means it will not submit evidence to defend the reason of the firm not providing very special circumstances to outweigh the harm to the green belt.
It follows a decision to withdraw making a defence over prematurity.
But parish councillor Cliff Taylor, chairman of the South Warrington Parish Councils’ Local Plan Working Group, has criticised the authority.
He said: “The parish councils’ group has been heavily involved in contesting the borough council’s local plan, particularly its plans for using hundreds of acres of green belt for logistics facilities.
“Now we are concerned that the council’s decisions to remove one reason for refusal and leave the other undefended at the upcoming appeal looks like opening the back door to the transport firm. This is ‘Stobarts by stealth’.
“We have written a letter to the council which is critical of its stance.
“On the basis of legal advice we have received, we strongly assert that the council has a perfectly good case to refuse the first application and should not now be backing away from that decision.”
Concerns have been raised from councillors and campaigners since it was confirmed the authority will not be defending the reasons for refusal at the appeal.
But some of the comments have sparked a response from council leader Cllr Russ Bowden on Facebook.
As previously reported, he says the matter remains ‘in the hands’ of the Planning Inspectorate.
He added: “This is more misinformation being spread by people who don’t understand the planning process or the workings of a quasi-judicial committee.
“The council hasn’t removed its grounds for refusal at all, they clearly still stand because those are what the appellant is challenging.”