The decision to reject a controversial scheme to build hundreds of houses on fields will stand as an inspector rejected the developer’s appeal.

The proposal to build 215 homes at Mount Leven Farm, Leven Bank Road, Yarm was refused planning permission by Stockton Council. Developer Mandale Homes appealed against this, arguing the council was wrong and the scheme would not have a severe or unacceptable impact while objectors said it would be a “harmful urbanisation”.

However, an inspector appointed by the government, Susan Hunt, found in favour of the council. She found the proposed homes were “bland and generic”, would not cater enough for older residents and the site was not accessible enough for non-drivers after listening to arguments at a one-day hearing in July.

Read more: Revised plans for 215 homes submitted despite more than 100 previous objections

The original plan had drawn more than 100 objections and 23 letters of support. Council officers had recommended the plan to be approved, but councillors on the planning committee went against this and refused it by a 5-4 vote last December.

The inspector was not satisfied the plans would adequately meet the specific needs of an ageing population at Mount Leven – the only place where this is called for in the Stockton Local Plan. She found it was unclear whether homes could be adapted in future to be more accessible for elderly people, with most failing to include a potential ground-floor bedroom.The Northern Echo:

She said: “I am not persuaded that the two-storey houses are specifically designed with such occupiers in mind. From the plans before me, they represent typical suburban-style two-storey family houses and do not clearly display features which would make them appropriate for older people.

“I am unconvinced that the two-storey dwellings before me would be preferable to or more suitable for older people who have mobility issues and indeed younger people with disabilities.”

The appeal also considered whether the Mount Leven roundabout – built as part of a previously approved scheme for a retirement village – was safe, suitable and sustainable on the 12.6-hectare site. Here the inspector said the roundabout and local roads “could operate within capacity and without severe effect”.

Read more: Inquiry set for 215 homes plans at Mount Level Farm, Yarm

She said the council had failed to provide technical evidence that the roundabout was not fit for purpose – but there was a “lack of detailed evidence” that foot and cycle connections could be achieved.

Ms Hunt said she saw limited visibility and poor driving for herself on the stretch of Leven Bank Road, with many motorists not slowing and “straight-lining” the roundabout. She had concerns about transport options, with a bus route through the site described as unlikely and a physical barrier from the river Leven and its steep valleys making accessibility “extremely limited”.

She said the plans failed to show how pedestrians or cyclists would reach shops, schools, services and facilities: “I cannot be certain that they are within a reasonable distance or are safe routes for non-car users.

“I consider that the appeal site is not in a suitably accessible location for non-motorised users.

“I have already found that use of the A1044 Leven Bank Road is not a safe or suitable route for pedestrians and there are doubts over whether a footpath link to the bus stop could be achieved.

“I have also found that there would not be an unacceptable effect on highway safety… However, it has not been fully established that the proposed off-site works to enable access by pedestrians and cyclists would be acceptable or achievable.”

She found the design and scale of the two-storey homes would harm the area’s visual character and appearance, saying: “The scale of the site and the number of dwellings is significant and there is no doubt that the proposed development would have an urbanising effect on the landscape causing a moderate degree of harm. Nevertheless, such effects would be localised.

“The proposed two-storey dwellings would inevitably appear more pronounced in the landscape and in local views and in turn, their detailed design would be more conspicuous. I find the design of most of the proposed house types in the appeal scheme before me to be somewhat bland and generic, with little evidence to suggest that local distinctiveness has been taken into account.

“The design fails to reflect the wider character of the river valley including the more historic and characterful properties around the Leven bridge… I am not persuaded that the scheme for the two-storey dwellings represents a high quality and beautiful development.”

She said there were potential obstacles to a proposed footbridge over the river, making its prospects “doubtful”. She found the proposed development “would not result in significant harm to green space” and would provide access to a country park.

But she concluded the benefits “do not outweigh the harm” and dismissed the developer’s appeal.

Read next:

Benefit from unrivalled local journalism with a Northern Echo digital subscription for just £1.50 a week. Click here.

She said she did not agree with all the council’s concerns, but did not make the council pay costs as she did not find the authority had behaved unreasonably or incurred unnecessary or wasted expense.

She said: “I consider that the appeal was necessary and that the council’s evidence, whilst somewhat vague on some of the issues, was sufficient for me to make an informed decision. Members were entitled to make their own judgments based on the evidence before them and considering their local knowledge and the representations made by local residents.”

Stockton Council is still considering two other plans from Mandale Homes for the site. One is another, revised planning application for the same number of homes, while the other is an outline scheme for a 68-bed care home.