‘Builders are holding us to ransom over plans’

Councillors Lona Smith, top, David Borrow, centre, and Susan Whittam
Councillors Lona Smith, top, David Borrow, centre, and Susan Whittam
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A proposal for 101 houses in Broughton caused concern to local councillors, worried about transport links and the sustainability of the site.

But the plans were passed anyway, with local representatives saying they felt powerless to resist after the planning inspector’s ruling.

Some of  the new housing being built and now being marketed in the north of Preston

Some of the new housing being built and now being marketed in the north of Preston

The ruling, relating to another site in Broughton, said that Preston’s council had failed to demonstrate an adequate five year housing supply.

That means that for any future applications to be rejected, councillors must demonstrate that the problems “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.”

Conservative councillor Lona Smith said: “It would appear that we are being held to ransom on the fact that we are told we cannot demonstrate a five-year housing supply and that seems to be the only factor that can be justifiably argued in this application.”

She made the comments at a recent meeting of the planning committee, where the issue came to a head during a discussion on outline plans by Emery Planning for 101 houses off Whittingham Lane in Broughton.

I’m particularly unhappy with this application and feel it will create more harm than benefit.

Coun Smith, speaking against the proposal, said the site was not sustainable, on a greenfield site and did not fit with the Local Plan.

Meanwhile, councillors also heard the views of local residents and parish councils that the site was a significant distance from local amenities without adequate public transport links.

It was also highlighted that an application for an adjacent site with fewer houses had been refused last year and subsequently upheld after an inquiry.

Coun Susan Whittam (Conservative), a member of the committee, asked colleagues to refuse the application on the basis it was contrary to aspects of local planning policy.

She said: “I’m particularly unhappy with this application and feel it will create more harm than benefit.”

The motion resulted in a six-six tie with the deciding vote going with chair Coun Javed Iqbal, who opposed it.

A subsequent vote for approval was then passed seven votes to five with the housing supply issue rearing its head.

Without an adequate supply, reasons for refusing an application must be shown that “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.”

The committee had previously been warned that decisions to refuse must be stringent enough to defend at appeal, and failure to do so could result in the local authority (and local taxpayers) footing the bill for substantial costs.

Coun David Borrow (Labour) said: “The two applications that the inspector overturned were clearly ones that this committee threw out on the basis we had a five-year supply and we could throw them out because they were outside our Local Plan and our local policies and we were confident to do that.

“But this loophole says if you can’t demonstrate a five-year supply the presumption is the development goes ahead unless there is overwhelming evidence that the impact would be very much adverse.

“Not that it’s good planning policy (or not), but whether or not the impact will outweigh the impact of building 100 odd houses here. If we had the five-year supply, I don’t think this (Whittingham Lane application) would be here, it would be straightforward; it’s in an area of separation, outside the local plan, we’d throw it out and we’d be confident that when it went to appeal we would win the appeal. But I haven’t got that confidence.

“However way I read this and balance things up I can’t see anything in this application where the detriment is strong enough to overturn the way government policy on further development is when you haven’t got a five year plan.

“I’m really struggling to be confident that we can vote against it and it will hold when it goes to appeal, which it inevitably will. I wish it wasn’t so and I wish planning policy was different.”

Key facts

Five-year housing supply

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires local planning authorities to maintain a deliverable five year housing land supply.

Without this, even recently adopted planning policies for the supply of housing will be considered out of date.

“It’s all about delivery of units, you might have granted consent for 1,000 dwellings but you’ve got to look at how many will be built out in the five-year period,” said Mr Walton director of PWA Planning.

What did the inspectors say?

The recent appeal regarded two sites in Broughton, one at Key Fold Farm on Garstang Road and another off Sandy Gate Lane.

They related to more than 200 houses that had been rejected by the council for being contrary to local policies but were brought to appeal by the developers.

Keith Manning, in his decision report, said Preston’s current housing supply is “at best only 70 per cent of what is required by national policy.”

He stated: “In broad terms I am satisfied that the supply, properly calculated in the context of relevant applicable policy, lies between three and three-and-a-half years only.

“To put it another way, the current supply of deliverable housing sites is at best only 70 per cent of what is required by national policy as articulated in the Framework and is very likely nearer 60 per cent.

“On any assessment, in the context of applicable local and national policy, that represents a very substantial shortfall.”

Mr Manning also acknowledged how his ruling may appear “counter-intuitive” to residents given the large number of approvals for sites in North West.

What happens now?

The council hopes its annual review of housing completions could prompt a change in fortunes.

But in the meantime developers may feel emboldened in the coming months to submit applications for housing outside of development plan areas.

For example, one development rejected by the council last year at Cardwells Farm on Garstang Road in Barton, will return before the planning committee next week.

Emery Planning, on behalf of Wainhomes, has appealed that decision given the recent ruling regarding the inadequate housing supply.

The council has indicated it is not in a position to defend its original ruling at an inquiry, therefore the bid for 55 houses has been resubmitted.

It has been recommended for approval by officers.

Chris Hayward, director of development at Preston City Council, said: “The council is currently undertaking its annual review of housing completions which will provide an update of our housing land supply position in relation to both the number of new homes being delivered, against our target, and the number of new homes granted planning permission.

“Following completion of this review, we will recalculate the housing land supply position, which will take account of the Inspector’s observations in the recent appeal decision. This should be published in May.

“We are also working with neighbouring South Ribble and Chorley councils in a review of the Local Plan, a key part of which will be trying to find more land suitable for housing development within the city.”