A LONG-RUNNING battle to stop houses being built on open countryside in Darnhall will now be debated at a public inquiry.

Councillors on the planning committee of Cheshire West and Chester Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to defend an appeal after Darnhall Estate challenged a Government decision to refuse plans to build 184 homes in Darnhall.

A fresh inquiry will be held on November 27.

Members vehemently backed the council’s stance to object to the development which is opposed by residents, environmentalists and the Government and received 57 letters of objection.

Darnhall Estates first submitted plans for the development, on land off Darnhall School Lane, back in 2013 - but the scheme was rejected by CWAC’s planning committee following fierce opposition from residents.

The developer appealed that decision but this was dismissed by Greg Clarke MP, the then secretary of state for communities and local government, on July 7, 2016.

Planning officers say the scheme should still be rejected because the site is open countryside and would go against both the CWAC local plan and Winsford’s neighbourhood plan.

Robin Wood, chairman of the local residents group, told the committee there is still strong opposition.

He said: “Cheshire Wildlife Trust has stated in a report that Darnhall is an area of excellent biodiversity and protection and enhancement of its natural assets is of crucial importance.”

He urged councillors to protect the rural area and prevent developers “driving a coach and horse” through the local plan.

Cllr Brian Clarke, cabinet member for economic development and infrastructure, said: “This site is not and was never allocated for housing.

“The Winsford neighbourhood plan allocated four sites for housing which the people of Winsford voted on.

“This is more than just a neighbourhood plan, it is the aspirations the people of Winsford have for their town. It includes a shopping centre, town park, marina, access to the flashes, all of which we have now started to deliver.

“It is one of the most successful neighbourhood plans in the country.”

Cllr Stephen Burns, member for Winsford Swanlow and Dene told the committee in a statement: “We are well on the way to delivering 3,500 new builds by 2030.

“This application for a major development outside the area would represent a significant deviation from the neighbourhood plan, loss of agricultural greenfield land and does meet any of the criteria set out in the plan.

“This application was previously refused and nothing has changed The objections were backed by the secretary of state. All the original refusals are still in place.”