The first houses of a “village within a village” could be built this year on the site of the old Whittingham Hospital.
Almost two decades after Britain’s biggest psychiatric institution closed its doors for good, work is expected to start by next winter on a mammoth scheme for a community of 650 homes in the grounds.
Councillors in Preston gave the nod yesterday to an extension of outline planning permission granted in 2007 to demolish the derelict buildings and create a development which will also include office and light industry accommodation, sports, recreational and play facilities and space for a new primary school.
“Perhaps, at long last, something can happen now,” said Coun John Browne, a former mental health nurse at the hospital. “It finally looks hopeful, although things have looked hopeful in the past with this.”
The plan to redevelop the site for housing was first mooted in 1996, the year after it was shut down. But local opposition to the scheme, coupled with “cash flow” problems for a prospective developer, has left the site standing empty and boarded up for 19 years.
“It has seemed like groundhog day over the years with this development,” admitted the city’s planning committee chairman Coun Brian Rollo. “Now this can only be good. We can now move this forward because we need to start delivering.”
The Home and Communities Agency, which owns the site, plans to start building by the end of 2014. In all there will be four phases spread over 12 years. As part of the planning approval the developers will make contributions totalling more then £20m to the proposed Broughton Bypass, affordable housing, education provision and bus services.
The bowling green will be relocated, although the cricket pitch and pavilion will be retained. The Grade II Listed St John’s Church, which is no longer used for worship, will be adapted for community use.
Wittingham opened in 1873 and grew to be Britain’s biggest mental hospital with its own farms, telephone exchange, railway, post office, gasworks, butchers and brewery.