Hands off our green spaces!
Council bosses across central Lancashire are starting the long process of updating their Local Plan; shaping housing, industrial and infrastructure development through the next decade and beyond.
Today the Lancashire Post lays out what we think are among the top priorities for the area.
In recent years, the region’s City Deal has brought investment, along with an influx of housing developments.
But with the city and surrounding areas beset with congestion problems, attention must be paid to road infrastructure and public transport solutions.
And new homes are no good without the services that go with them – schools for the inhabitants’ children, GPs surgeries, the odd community centre and shops to buy provisions.
Meanwhile, our rural and village communities must be protected against the threat of urban sprawl.
And we must take care with the type of houses we build - before we concrete over precious green space we must fill the empty homes we already have, and redevelop the derelict brownfield sites in the city.
We call upon our councils to give proper consideration to these issues, things that we know are of the upmost importance to our readers.
Broughton Bypass work at Garstang Road and D’Urton Lane
The new Broughton Bypass
The housing development being built off Eastway, opposite Preston Grasshoppers
Thousands of homes in North West Preston have been approved under the North West Preston Masterplan - part of City Deal – and many are already under construction.
Spaces that even two years ago were green fields now house acres of new housing estates.
But the surrounding roads often have little or no work done to accommodate all the extra traffic generated.
Many local residents and parish councils feel they are left to pick up the pieces at a local level.
Woodplumpton Parish Clerk Julie Buttle said: “Strategic locations need infrastructure such as roads, schools, health care, community and retail facilities. The Local Plan should set clear dates for the provision of this infrastructure, including who will provide it.
“Further housing should not be approved until the supporting infrastructure is in place or at the very least, financially secured.
“Broughton by-pass and the current lack of infrastructure to the new development in North West Preston has altered traffic flows along Eastway and in the rural villages and there should be an up-to-date assessment on the use and capacity of rural roads.
“There should be a requirement that the council does more to assess the impact of development in rural areas including the advertisement of construction routes, roadworks and reinstating damages to verges.
One councillor for the area is also calling for more investment into electric car charging points.
Coun Sue Whittam, Conservative member of Preston City Council for the city’s Rural North ward, said: “The review of the Local Plan gives local authorities the opportunity to include new policies that contribute to making future development greener.
“In particular Government has agreed that all new diesel and petrol cars and vans will be banned from 2040 to improve emissions in the UK.
“The use of electric vehicles is a key measure in reducing emissions locally and therefore the provision of infrastructure to facilitate and stimulate this change is essential.
“It is disappointing that only a few charging points for electric vehicles have been included in recent planning applications.
“If the introduction of electric cars is to be a success then new policies need to be implemented.”
Once homes are built and people installed, they need access to services. But too often this has not happened, leaving existing local services such as GPs surgeries and dentists struggling to cope with the rise in demand.
One GP surgery near Chorley – Whittle Surgery – has seen its patient numbers increase by more than half in the last 16 years.
The area around the surgery has been the scene of major house-building, including the expansion of Buckshaw Village.
Pressure on services became so intense that last year doctors were forced to see some patients in a Portakabin.
A spokesman at the time said that the 58 per cent rise was down to housing developments and the surgery needed more space to accommodate newcomers.
The surgery has now submitted plans for a new, purpose built site to accommodate the numbers.
Practice manager at Whittle Surgery Keely Ollerton said that the new build would be at least four times the size of the clinic doctors are operating out of now in Preston Road, Whittle-le-Woods. It will also have extra services and a community café.
“We are excited by the prospect of moving in to new, purpose-built premises fit for 21st Century healthcare,” she said. “It’s at least four times bigger from where we are at the minute. We are working out of a small place and need extra space.
“The new build will enable the practice to continue to offer services to our patients as our list size grows - currently at around 300 patients per year.
“The new premises will also enable the practice to work corroboratively with other local practices and healthcare services to provide new services such as diabetes clinics and extended opening times.”
Protect the villages
Lancashire contains some beautiful rural areas, and picture perfect villages.
And those village dwellers are committed to fighting tooth and nail to protect their rural idyll from housing sprawl.
Maintaining the character of the county’s rural communities is already part of the current planning frameworks covering the county.
But, on certain occasions, developments are waved through by the authorities even though it has been demonstrated that they do not adhere to such guidelines.
And the city council’s current housing supply issues - having recently been deemed to not have an adequate five-year supply - may pose several problems in deliberating applications throughout this year.
Several parish authorities, such as Longridge Town Council, are either forming or have already formed their own local Neighbourhood Plan to give them more power over future development.
And grassroots protest movements such as the Save Longridge are committed to protecting the character of their homes.
Jeff Seel, a spokesman for Save Longridge, said: “Longridge is under attack from these hordes of developers. We are being surrounded by money-hungry firms who seem to have little or no regard for the effect that they are having on our peaceful and beautiful rural community.
“We are all aware of central government’s directives on housing needs for the whole of the country, and we acknowledge that Longridge and the rest of Ribble Valley have an obligation to meet those directives.
“However, the wholesale mass developments proposed bear little or no resemblance to actual requirements.”
Pat Hastings, representative of Broughton Parish Council, presented a case to the recent planning appeal based on the Central Lancashire Core Strategy and current Local Plan. She said: “What we need is the make sure the policies are strengthened in the next plan and actually implemented.
“Policies are in place to protect areas of separation, open countryside; policies designed to protect the identity, local distinctiveness and green infrastructure of certain settlements and neighbourhoods.
“But the wording is woolly in places, such as regarding what is deemed small-scale development.”
Empty Homes policy
There is no doubt that Preston – like all local authorities – needs more housing.
But building new homes while existing ones sit empty seems like madness.
Latest figures show Preston (990), South Ribble (375) and Chorley (502) have hundreds of long-term empty houses.
The issue has recently received national attention with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling for local authorities to have more powers in relation to long-term empty properties.
Although their hands may be tied by current regulations, the Local Plan must place as much emphasis as possible on attempts to reduce this number.
For example, Preston City Council has recently tweaked its policy regarding tax bills for empty properties in an attempt for owners to bring them back into use faster.
Under previous regulations, owners of empty homes had two months grace from council tax followed with four months at paying half-rates.
The changes, recently approved, see the exemption reduced to just one month. The stricter guidelines could generate more than £100,000 per year for the cash-strapped authority.
In addition to this, the town hall has also unveiled plans to use £400k to refurbish vacant locations, all coming from contributions made by developers hoping to build new sites.
Policy makers could also consider a similar scheme to one launched in South Ribble in recent years, in conjunction with Methodist Action, that offered £4,500 to owners to help with renovation costs with a view to creating rental units.
Helen Williams, director of Empty Homes, a national campaigning charity, said: “Ensuring empty homes are brought back into use, should go alongside building new homes, to meet housing needs as part of Local Plans.
“Local authorities tell us that often homes get stuck empty because of the personal or financial circumstances of the owners and that a casework approach – ranging from advice through to enforcement action - is what works. Too often the blight of empty homes exists alongside other pressures on local communities.
“Our research shows that neighbourhoods with the high levels of long-term empty homes tend to house people on lower incomes and have particularly high levels of private rented housing with much of it being sub-standard.
“Local strategies could helpfully support action to tackle the underlying causes of empty homes in these neighbourhoods, such as action against poor standards of management and maintenance in parts of the private rented sector and investment to support community-based organisations to buy and refurbish empty properties to provide decent housing for people.”
Developing brownfield sites
For developers, starting afresh on green fields could be seen as an easier option than regenerating brownfield sites.
But these sites are frequently eyesores that drag down the neighbouring area – quite apart from being a waste of available land – and they must be fully utilised before we allow any further assaults on the greenbelt.
Councils are required to publish accurate and up-to-date brownfield registers to be used by developers to find land for house-building.
The previous Core Strategy set a target for 70 per cent of new housing bids to be on previously developed sites, something that Preston Council bosses say has been reached.
The Campaign for Rural England (CPRE) supports a “brownfield first” policy, which prioritises sites for development over greenfield and is calling on the government to impose stricter guidelines in favour of greater transparency for possible sites. Rebecca Pullinger, CPRE’s planning campaigner said: “Up and down the country tens of thousands of small brownfield sites are not included in Brownfield Land Registers and their housing development potential missed.
“The current system of collecting this data must be improved.”
In Preston, the Brownfield Register is available online in a spreadsheet with 48 sites also viewable on an interactive map to help developers and communities identify a total land area of over 44 hectares, an example of good practice, the CPRE said. Some 1,200 homes could be built on these sites, they added.
An example of a recent development bid on brownfield land include plans to build 10 three-bedroom affordable housing properties on land adjacent to Thompson Street and Shakespeare Road.
Meanwhile, approval for more than 100 homes was granted in February on the site of the former Cottam Brickworks.
The wider Cottam Hall site is subject to a £80m regeneration plan.
Coun Peter Moss, cabinet member for planning and regulation at Preston City Council, said: “Preston was a pilot authority for the Brownfield Land register.
“Between April 2004 and March 2017, 74 per cent of all new housing completions have been on previously developed land.”
It is an issue limited to city centre residents but the level of student accommodation in Preston has been a hot topic of several planning committee meetings during the past year.
A number of vast student hubs are either under construction, recently completed or hoping to gain the green light.
However, in recent months two sites - Canterbury Hall and the Tramshed - have applied for more flexibility so that they can open their doors to key-workers and apprentices, not just students.
Councillors have said the influx of purpose-built student digs may free up family houses.
But the move to open to workers has flagged up that the number of developments tabled may need to be reviewed.
At last week’s meeting of the planning committee that saw Canterbury Hall on Garstang Road get approval to have key-workers, predominantly NHS staff, as tenants, Coun John Swindells (Labour) said student accommodation should be part of the Local Plan review.
He told colleagues: “We need to look at student accommodation and where it stands, whether we’ve reached a point where we’ve got too much.
“This isn’t the first one that has come for a change of use and I do get that with student accommodation there is probably no need for parking but with key-workers, there is.
“I really think we need to look at student accommodation, by all accounts they are becoming difficult to fill if they’re applying to let in key-workers, I do wonder if we’re aiming it at doctors and consultants whether they want to share it with students. There’s an issue of passing halls of residence that are then being changed.”
Coun Stuart Greenhalgh (Conservative) agreed there are concerns about developers getting hubs approved and later applying to vary conditions
He said: “It has happened on other buildings, it’s now happening here (Canterbury Hall). 190 student flats, as we know students don’t have cars.
“So the very fact they can put it here with no car parking, fine. We can all accept that.
“Now, we have an application to change that to bring cars into the area. A cynical person would suggest developers are applying for the accommodation first, and get it approved.”