Preston’s house building boom has reached dizzying heights - with almost 5,000 new homes given the go-ahead this year alone.
And the shock figures have prompted critics to call for a halt to the Klondike-style land grab which is eating away the city’s northern greenbelt at an alarming rate.
On Thursday applications for 636 houses will go before Preston Council’s planning committee, all of them recommended for approval.
They will bring the total of new homes passed by the authority in 2019 to a staggering 4,882.
And it is unlikely to end there, with hundreds more set to be submitted by developers in the early months of 2020.
One former councillor, who lives surrounded by construction sites in Cottam, claimed residents are now so fed up with the situation they are even moving house to escape the mess.
“It’s an absolute nightmare now living in the north of Preston,” stormed Christine Abram who quit the city council in May after almost 20 years. “In fact the word nightmare doesn’t even sum it up.
“People who don’t live around here - and that includes a lot of councillors - don’t know how bad it is because they never come up here.
“There is no co-ordination, no joined-up thinking. There isn’t the infrastructure to cope with all these new houses.”
Cottam lies on the western side of an arc of greenfield land which stretches across the north of the city to Fulwood and includes villages to the north of the M55.
A group, calling itself Whittingham and Goosnargh Against Over-development, has been set up to fight what it sees as the alarming proliferation of construction sites on what used to be farmland.
Michelle Woodburn, from the group, said: “They’ve oversubscribed in Preston with the building. What they keep saying is that they haven’t got a five year supply of housing."
Referring to the planning committee at Preston City Council she said: “They are not fit for purpose if they can’t put the local plan into place. They pass any or all of it. There is no infrastructure and it’s causing havoc everywhere.
“Where is the need for all this housing in the Preston area?”
The latest sites to go before the planning committee this week are north of D’Urton Lane (up to 250 homes), north of Eastway (195), north of Jepps Lane (125) and south of Whittingham Lane (66).
All four projects have been examined by planning officers and have been recommended for approval, subject to conditions including the developers making a financial contribution towards infrastructure in the area.
Christine Abram left the city council at the last election saying she was “frustrated” at the way rank and file councillors were no longer able to have an impact on the work of the authority.
Even in office she was a regular critic of the housing boom which she believes the council has little control over.
“Every council has a requirement to build so many houses and, even if we disagreed with applications, there was very little we could do to stop them. Developers can appeal and, because of austerity, councils don’t have the resources to fight those appeals.
“When people bought their houses near us in Cottam they did so because it was a peaceful, rural area. Now it’s nothing like that.
“It is beyond comprehension that we are allowing all this to happen without sufficient roads, schools, bus services and health facilities.
“When you look at many of these planning applications, many of the homes are expensive. My question is: Who’s buying them?
“I guess they are people who don’t work in and around Preston, but come up the motorway to their executive homes. So Preston is getting nothing from them other than council tax.
“Around here there isn’t a road you can go down without encountering temporary traffic lights. If you are trying to get children - or in my case grandchildren - to and from school, it takes ages.
“People in the Hoyles Lane area, which has been badly affected, are moving out. They have been swamped and they have had enough.”
Michelle Woodburn added: “It says in the local plan that they are supposed to be put houses where the employment is. But there’s no employment in Goosnargh and Whittingham.
“They say they want fewer cars on the roads, but all these applications don’t seem to consider the fact that people have to get in cars to go to work and to go shopping. We only have one bus in the village.
“It’s diabolical, the thinking of it. All they say is we haven’t got a five-year plan for housing land and all this mess is totally down to Preston City Council.
“They are saying they haven’t met the five-year plan but the figures speak for themselves.
“Preston is oversubscribed. They are frightened of the developers taking them to court.
“It’s difficult for me not knowing all the planning law but surely you have to have some sort of common sense.”
Preston Council has pointed the finger at developers for the number of house building applications it is having to approve.
While the authority gives permission for large scale projects to fulfil the Government’s requirement for a five-year supply of new homes, many of the developments are not being completed.
And the practice of companies buying up plots of land and “banking” them for the future is also an issue facing the council.
“Not every application is ultimately built out,” said Coun Peter Moss, deputy leader and cabinet member for planning and regulation.
“That is entirely at the discretion of the successful application as to whether they build or not. We can grant planning permission but we don’t have that ability to force them to build.
“The council grants planning permission, but it’s house builders who build houses.
“One of the reasons that we don’t have a five-year supply is because there are house builders who are not building out in sufficient numbers.
“I would like to see us have the powers to be able to ensure that these developers do build in sufficient quantities once the planning permission has been granted. At the moment the local planning authority doesn’t have the power to be able to force people to build.
“There is also a lot of talk about land banking by the developers or house builders and that is also an issue.”
THIS MONTH'S BATCH
The housing schemes, all of which have been recommended for approval, coming to Preston’s Planning Committee on Thursday, December 5:
125 at land to the north of Jepps Lane in Barton. Applicant: Story Homes
250 houses to land to the North of Durton Lane in Preston. Applicant: Laurus Partnership Homes
195 homes to land north of Eastway in Preston. Applicant: Story Homes
66 homes to land South of Whitingham Lane in Grimsargh. Applicant: Seddon Homes
The total of 636 homes set to be approved on Thursday is not the highest monthly figure to come before Preston’s planning committee this year.
While it is above average, it is only half the number given the green light last month. Councillors voted in favour of 1,293 at their meeting on November 7 - 750 of those coming in one application covering a section of the vast Whittingham Hospital site.
And at October’s meeting, members agreed to applications totalling 830, including an environmental impact assessment for up to 500 homes on land at Tabley Lane and Sandy Lane in Cottam.
The last three months of 2019 alone have therefore brought more than 2,750 homes before the planning committee for approval.