Chorley traveller family told they can stay at their home of 12 years for now - but not for life
A traveller family from Chorley have been told that they can stay for another three years on the greenbelt site where they are currently living - because a council promise to build a permanent plot in the borough has still not been fulfilled.
The Linfoot family settled on land which they own off Hut Lane in Heath Charnock over 12 years ago. They were initially subject to enforcement proceedings as permission had not been granted for the development.
However, since 2013, they have been told by Chorley Council on three separate occasions that they can remain in situ for a temporary period - pending the authority’s development of an allocated gypsy and traveller site at Cowling Farm in the east of the borough.
After the last occasion, back in 2018, family member Mike Linfoot claimed that the three-year permission granted at the time would not be long enough to deliver to the proposed facility.
At a meeting of Chorley Council’s planning committee just before Christmas, he said that his prediction had come to pass - and that there was “still not a spade in the ground”.
Applying now for permanent permission to remain on the Hut Lane plot, Mr. Linfoot said that the council had approved developments on other greenbelt land and that it was “very discriminatory” not to do so in his case. Planning officers had again recommended that only temporary permission be granted for the land to remain in use as a traveller site for a further three years and three months.
“This is becoming a human rights issue,” Mr Linfoot added.
The meeting heard that the council was now aiming to start work on the Cowling Farm site in around 18 months, with it being ready for occupation from January 2025.
However, Mr, Linfoot said that the committee should take into consideration what he claimed would be the £1.5m cost to the council of making good on its pledge - and the ongoing expense of maintaining a council-owned site.
The application to make a Hut Lane a permanent traveller plot - with two mobile homes, five touring caravans and a utility block for the Linfoots and their extended family - had attracted support from 62 households and objections from 20 others.
One of the latter number, Paul Sedgwick - who said he was speaking on behalf of “the large majority of residents immediately around the application site” - said that the situation had gone on “far too long, to the frustration of all involved”.
He called for any further temporary permission to be limited to two years in order to “give impetus” to the council to deliver the Cowling Farm development.
“The settled community - and I'm sure the travelling community also - need certainty that the new site will be available as quickly as possible, “ said Mr. Sedgwick, adding that conditions on the use of the Hut Lane land should be subject to “regular random checks” by the council.
Chorley South East and Heath Charnock ward councillor Samir Khan said that residents had previously reported that “multiple conditions have been disregarded by the applicant” - including use of the site for commercial activity, with “large lorries” making deliveries.
He also said that community integration by the family “with the vast majority of local residents is very poor”.
However, Mr, Linfoot dismissed claims of commercial use as a “fabrication” and said that the only people that he had failed to integrate with were those who “don’t want to integrate with anybody - let alone a temporary G&T [gypsy and traveller] site”.
As part of the application for permanent residence, Mr. Linfoot had also sought a relaxation of a condition outlawing commercial activity in order to allow the storage of materials - but planning officers had recommended this be refused.
Speaking in support of the family, their next-door-but-one neighbour Jason Smalley said that when the views of the “wider community” were taken into account - rather than just the residents of the Olde Stoneheath Court housing estate in the immediate vicinity - the majority backed the Linfoot’s bid to stay put for good.
After a brief debate, the committee concluded that the ongoing delay to the Cowling Farm site left it with no choice but to approve a fourth temporary permission for a period of 39 months - on the grounds that the absence of an alternative location for the Linfoots amounted to the "very special circumstances" needed to justify development in the greenbelt.
However, committee member Cllr Martin Boardman did make a failed attempt to have the timeframe reduced to two years, as some of the residents had requested.
He said that the council “needs to have a good look at ourselves and put some serious timescales” on delivering the promised site at Cowling Farm.
In a private session of a full council meeting in January 2021, Chorley Council resolved to submit a planning application for the traveller site, along with an application to Homes England for funding to help deliver it.
Homes England - the government’s housing delivery body - owns the southern part of Cowling Farm and plans to develop it for housing, with the northern section remaining under council control for the purposes of the traveller facility and proposed employment uses.
A public consultation into the development of the entire site was carried out in late 2018, but little has been announced since then concerning the future of the plot.
However, in November 2019, it emerged that plans for Chorley Council and Homes England to lodge a joint planning application for their respective schemes had unravelled after the government agency indicated that it was intending to go it alone - and was also refusing to provide access to the traveller site from its housing development. At the time, council leader Alistair Bradley said he was "personally frustrated" by the situation, which a cabinet meeting was told would push the price tag for traveller site to between £920,000 and £1.03m.
Also in 2019, a report assessing the needs of the gypsy and travelling community across Central Lancashire concluded that 10 new pitches for individual homes were needed in Chorley - nine of which were for current or "emerging" households currently living off Hut Lane.
Many thanks for reading. Please consider subscribing to the Lancashire Post to support local journalism and help secure its vital role across Central Lancashire - thank you.