The Mayor of Watford has called for councils to be given more planning powers after figures revealed the government forced through 15 applications in Watford last year.

In 2019, Watford Borough Council refused a total of 260 planning applications - of these, 62 were appealed.

When an appeal is lodged, a government inspector considers the application and has the power to overturn the council's decision.

Over the last 12 months, the government overruled Watford Borough Council 15 times, while more than half are awaiting a decision.

Mayor Peter Taylor said: "It simply isn’t right that the government can decide what is best for the future of our town. New housing should not be forced on Watford that we have already rejected as not being suitable for people to live in.

"We need to be trusted to make the right decisions about the future of our town and not have this decided instead by government inspectors."

If an applicant does win an appeal, it can open the council up to paying huge costs in legal bills which can run into the hundreds of thousands.

Deputy mayor Cllr Karen Collett alluded to this risk when Liberal Democrat councillors passed plans for a 28 storey tower and 1,214 homes in St Albans Road - a decision which has since been met with widespread criticism.

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition to stop the scheme and petition organiser Allen Berry-Simmons, 31, accused the council of having "no backbone" to refuse the plans.

One of the applications an inspector overruled the council on in 2019 will be familiar with many Observer readers.

It's fair to say readers were stunned when an inspector gave the green light to 15 tiny flats at a former upholstery workshop in Wellstones in Watford town centre.

Watford Observer:

The former upholstery workshop in Wellstones

A council planning officer had refused the plans, which included seven flats with no windows, because the units "would not provide any meaningful outlook, daylight or even appropriate ventilation", and that upper-floor units "would have no means of escape in case of fire".

But inspector Steve Rennie ruled the proposal met the requirements of the general permitted development order, although he acknowledged the units were "small".

Watford Observer:

We've taken a look at five of the other 14 schemes which failed to impress the council but won the approval of inspectors.

In Whippendell Road, an applicant wanted to build a part two-storey, part three-storey building of seven flats.

The council did not like the scheme because it felt the development would be "harmful to the character and appearance of the area". The council also had concerns about parking.

But Inspector Norman disagreed with the council's view because they thought the layout of the building would "respect the linear character of the site". They also decided that enough parking was proposed.

In Balmoral Road, a homeowner wanted to extend their home, which had already been subject to "insensitive alterations and extensions at roof level", according to the council planning officer's report.

The council did not like the scheme because the officer felt it would have an "adverse impact upon the character and appearance of the building and the area".

Inspector Norman disagreed and said the proposals were "set back and did not appear to look awkward".

In Woodland Drive, an applicant wanted to remove a garage and utility building and construct a single storey side and rear extension and new porch.

The council felt the plans would have a "detrimental effect" on the outlook from the property next door, and the officer considered the proposal would "cause harm to the character and appearance of the area".

Inspector Richard Aston said the new building would be "partly shielded" by an existing outbuilding and as long as the new building matched the existing building, it would not be "visually dominant". Inspector Aston concluded the proposal would not be "oppressive or overbearing" to the neighbouring property.

In Loates Lane, the council refused an application for a new driveway because a heritage asses (wall) would have been lost. The property is in the Estcourt Conservation Area and it was concluded the new driveway would result in "harm to the character of the site, streetscene, and conservation area".

Inspector Ellis said they found "no specific reference to the historic merit of the wall" and did not think the loss of the wall would be "harmful".

Slug & Lettuce in The Parade applied for planning consent for two sets of illuminated signs on the front and an illuminated projection sign.

The council refused because the sign would result in an "adverse impact on character and appearance of the site, streetscene, and locally listed building".

But Inspector Down said the signs were "modest in size" and would have "no detrimental effect" on the character or appearance of the building.