A vehicle scrapyard, described by a judge as an eyesore, is more acceptable in a West Midlands village than four modern detached houses, the Deputy Prime Minister has decided.
John Prescott was criticised last night for overruling Solihull Council and a planning inspector by rejecting an application to replace the car dump in Meriden with new housing.
A High Court judge yesterday upheld Mr Prescott's decision that the scrapyard, in Back Lane, was no more harmful in the green belt than housing would be.
Mr Justice Crane ruled that while plans for housing "might to many seem desirable", Mr Prescott's concerns about openness in the green belt and housing policy in the area were legitimate ones that he was entitled to weigh against the development.
The decision is a blow to Warwickshire businessman John De Mulder, the owner of the scrapyard, who managed to convince Solihull Council to support the housing application.
Mr Prescott's stance was criticised by Meriden MP Caroline Spelman, who accused the Deputy Prime Minister of riding roughshod over elected local representatives.
Mrs Spelman said: "Solihull Council is very strict about development in the green belt, and rightly so. But in this instance the council clearly felt well-designed housing would be better than a scrapyard."
Mr De Mulder and his wife went to court to complain that Mr Prescott was wrong to adopt the stance he did after first Solihull Council, and then his own inspector recommended approval of the scheme.
The De Mulders finally succeeded in persuading the council to back their plan for four detached homes after three applications for larger developments were refused. However, Mr Prescott then 'called in' the matter to decide for himself.
His inspector, who conducted a public inquiry into the matter, recommended granting permission.
The inspector said, citing strong support from local residents, that she was of the view that while the housing development would generally be inappropriate development in the green belt, it would have "considerable benefits" for the area compared to the scrapyard use, in terms of character and appearance, and highway safety.
She recommended that these constituted "very special circumstances" justifying the otherwise inappropriate development.
Backing Mr Prescott's decision, the judge said: "In my judgment, the Secretary of State had a sufficient basis for differing from the inspector on green belt openness, describing it as he did as finely balanced. It cannot in my view be concluded that he went beyond what was reasonable in making that judgment.
"I have some sympathy for the claimants and for those who supported the proposal."