Locals in Mellor Brook had claimed that the proposed development – on the site of the former Windmill Hotel and pub – would lead to traffic chaos and shatter the peace of those living nearby.
Fuelled by fury, they banded together to oppose the plan when it was first put forward more than four years ago by Preston-based James Hall and Co..
South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee rejected the company’s initial application to flatten the disused pub in February 2018 – and a planning inspector upheld their decision on appeal later that year.
However, the firm last year returned with a fresh bid to redevelop the plot – on the corner of Preston New Road and Branch Road – with South Ribble planning officers this time recommending that councillors approve the proposal for the derelict hostelry, which shut its doors in 2014.
Committee members were told at a meeting on Thursday evening that the retailer had addressed the concerns of both the council and the planning inspector. But residents begged to differ, sending councillors a 43-page booklet detailing their opposition to the plan – and then making a direct appeal to members as they mulled over their decision.
Katherine Roberts said that her home would stand just 11 metres from the new petrol station – and she implored the committee to “imagine” what life would be like if the development went ahead.
“Ask yourselves this question – hand on heart, would any of you want to…live next door to a proposal of this size?
“I know I speak for all of those who object to these plans…when I say that until the right development goes ahead…we will be happy to continue to overlook a derelict pub – rather than have our privacy and peace and quiet obliterated by a petrol filling station and shop,” said Ms. Roberts.
Another villager, Ann Wainwright, became visibly upset as she addressed the committee and warned of the impact of the plans on existing village businesses. She said that a family-run petrol station just yards away from the site would be closed down by the competition – and added that other independent local shops were predicting a loss of income and redundancies.
“Our small village businesses have managed to survive an awful pandemic when [they] went out of their way to help their community – [so] we want to help them now. This is just another mail in their coffin if [it] is passed,” said Ms. Wainwright.
Committee chair Caleb Tomlinson said that members would find it much easier to make a decision if they could take into account the impact of the proposal on other retailers – but he reminded residents that competition was not a material planning consideration.
The level of traffic that would be generated by the new business was another bone of contention. Michael Kitching, a highways expert employed by the residents, said that the petrol station and convenience store would result in 1,966 daily vehicle movements on and off the site, as opposed to 303 when the pub was in operation – an increase he likened to filling Preston Bus Station’s car park three times over.
However, David Wallbank – a transport and highways consultant for James Hall and Co. – stressed that the suggested six-fold increase did not mean that there would be six times as many vehicles using the surrounding roads.
“The majority of these [customers] will be passing the site along Branch Road or Preston New Road in any event.
“This is the accepted nature of petrol filling station and convenience store sites, with very few customers diverting to visit [them] – the majority of trips being [passers-by]. Consequently, the number of new trips generated is very small – usually less than 10 percent,” saif Mr. Wallbank.
He added that highways officials at Lancashire County Council had concluded that “safe and suitable access to the site can be achieved for all users”.
The redesigned proposal was first brought before the committee last July, when members deferred their decision and asked County Hall for further comments in relation to road safety concerns raised by residents. However, the authority – which has not objected to the petrol station plan in either of its incarnations – reaffirmed that it did not consider the development would have a “severe” impact on the highway.
The planning inspector who upheld the committee’s first refusal of permission in 2018 did so after concluding that the development would be damaging to the character of the area and that nearby residents would be unable to get any “respite” from the noise associated with the site.
However, Deborah Smith, the agent for the application, told members that the new proposal was “very different” – and that there were no grounds to refuse it again.
“The application submission considers plant noise, human noise and delivery noise – covering all of the concerns raised by the inspector. My client’s acoustic consultant and two South Ribble environmental health officers have all concluded that, with the appropriate mitigation, the [petrol station] can operate without significant adverse impact on residential amenity,” Ms. Smith said.
She added that the design of the facility was a “100 percent improvement” on the original plan.
South Ribble planning officer Catherine Lewis acknowledged that there had been “significant localised opposition” to the proposal – but noted that no statutory consultees had objected.
However, with more than 400 objections from the public – and only a tenth of that number offering support for the plan – committee members came down on the side of residents.
While some wrestled with going against their own officers’ recommendation, none spoke in support of the proposal.
Cllr Barrie Yates, who is also the ward councillor for the area, said that the changes to the original plan – which included a complete rethink of the site layout – were “window dressing”.
“They cannot make an unacceptable development acceptable,” he said.
Fellow committee member Will Adams said he felt that members’ hands had been tied in the absence of a road safety objection from the county council.
However, South Ribble’s head of development management, Steven Brown, advised that County Hall was required to assess only “technical” issues connected to the highway – and that the potential road-related impact of a development on the “amenity” of residents was still a matter for the planning committee.
After nearly two hours of debate, members voted unanimously to refuse the latest bid to build the petrol station – citing “increased disturbance” and the “detrimental impact on neighbouring amenity…as a result of the increased activity both within the site and [on] the highway”.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, Mellor Brook resident Ann Wainwright said that villagers were delighted with their victory – but added that the fight for the future of the Windmill Hotel site was far from over.
“James Hall and Co. could appeal again – although I think that would be illogical, seeing as the inspector turned it down last time.
“We would hope that they would get into some discussions with the residents and South Ribble Borough Council, so that it’s not just put back up for sale – leaving us with another gamble [about] who takes over the property,” Ms. Wainwright explained.
She said that villagers would like to see the borough council build affordable housing on the site – as it is doing where another failed pub once stood, the McKenzie Arms in Bamber Bridge.
However, for now, she says that locals are just happy that their own homes are not going to be blighted.
“If you go to any petrol station in Lancashire, you wouldn’t have found one as close to houses as this one was going to be.”
James Hall and Co. – which operates 150 Spar stores across the North and is also a wholesaler for many more - was approached for comment about the planning committee’s decision.
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