First Minister Mark Drakeford defends handling of Rossett housing appeal

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Artist impression of new housing in Rossett, near WrexhamImage source, Bellis Brothers Ltd
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Plans to build 132 new homes on agricultural land have sparked anger among villagers

First Minister Mark Drakeford has defended his housing minister over her handling of a development near Wrexham.

Campaigners said Julie James' "bizarre" decision to approve 132 new homes in Rossett had breached the ministerial code.

Rossett Focus Group (RFG) also complained to the planning inspectorate for overturning the local council's decision to refuse permission.

However Mr Drakeford said Ms James "acted at all times properly".

Wrexham council rejected plans for the development amid concerns over the loss of green land, the risk of flooding and a warning from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board on the impact on medical facilities.

However, the decision was overturned on appeal by the Welsh Government after the housing minister said the demand for more housing in Wrexham "significantly" weighed in favour of the scheme.

Image source, Rob Jones
Image caption,
Wrexham council had rejected the scheme over concerns including flooding

Protestors said her decision was made "without all the evidence available" and based on the local development plan.

"The decision to grant approval for 132 houses on agricultural land liable to flooding, in a green barrier and in contravention of her own government's policies is bizarre," said local councillor Hugh Jones.

"Following overwhelming opposition from the community, Wrexham [council] recognised the negative impact this development would have.

"There is not one single local or national planning policy which supports a development of this nature.

Image caption,
Julie James' handling of the case has been defended by the first minister

Mr Drakeford, in a letter to RFG, said Ms James had acted properly in dealing with the case and on "professional advice".

He wrote: "While I appreciate you are disappointed with the decision on this planning appeal, I do not think there is any reason to consider a breach of the ministerial code has occurred."

'Independent and impartial'

In a separate statement, a spokesman for the Welsh Government added: "The minister for housing and local government in dealing with this case has acted at all times properly and on the basis on the professional advice which she has received.

"There has been no breach of the ministerial code."

The Planning Inspectorate said all complaints were taken seriously and investigated.

"Inspectors are independent and impartial. When making a decision they give full consideration to evidence submitted at the time of the appeal taking account of current planning legislation, policies and guidance," a spokesman said.