'Don't come back': South Ribble village housing development thrown out AGAIN
Controversial plans to build 100 homes in a South Ribble village lie in tatters after they were rejected at a public inquiry for a second time.
A planning inspector has upheld a decision by South Ribble Borough Council to refuse permission for the development on protected land off Chain House Lane in Whitestake - almost two years to the day since it was made by the authority’s planning committee.
Since then, the proposal has been the subject of a case in the high court - and has become a pivotal issue with huge implications for neighbouring authorities in Preston and Chorley about how many homes they are expected to build.
The Whitestake plot is classed as so-called “safeguarded land”, meaning that it is not currently intended for development under South Ribble’s local plan, but could be released for housing at some point in the future.
Wainhomes, the developer behind the bid to build the estate, first appealed against South Ribble’s decision to reject it shortly after councillors on the cross-party planning committee reached their conclusion in 2019. That led to a public inquiry, following which a planning inspector ruled that the council was justified in its refusal of the plans.
The housebuilder then took the matter to the high court, where a judge determined last August that the inspector’s decision was partially flawed and quashed it - resulting in the opening of a fresh inquiry into the matter in March this year. A different inspector has now once again found in favour of the local authority - and dismissed Wainhomes’ appeal.
South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster said the outcome "vindicated" the authority’s staunch and longstanding opposition to the proposed scheme.
“We have said all along that this isn’t an appropriate development. Our position has been clear and consistent - as a council we are pro-development, but only when it is done in the right way and is of benefit to our residents and the wider South Ribble community.
“Once again, it has been demonstrated that this particular proposal is entirely unsuitable for our borough," Cllr Foster added.
Meanwhile, a resident who has helped lead the fight against the village building plans, said she had been “overwhelmed” by the joyous response of locals to the latest twist in the saga.
“Surely this decision must tell Wainhomes something - that they are in the wrong,” said Jean Berry, of the “Say No To Chain House Lane” campaign.
“This is not the first time that the matter has been put before a planning inspector - so I just hope the builders don't come back with anything else.”
On the possibility of the victory being fleeting - because of the risk of the land losing its safeguarded status when South Ribble, Preston and Chorley councils adopt a new joint local plan in late 2023 - Jean revealed that she and others had responded to a public consultation informing that work and called for the site to be recategorised as permanent greenbelt.
“Just beyond the nearby railway line there is a wildlife corridor, so it would fit in well with that,” said Jean, who also expressed her gratitude to residents and politicians who had come together to oppose the plans.
Andrew Dawe, the planning inspector who heard the latest appeal, was confronted with what have become familiar issues in Central Lancashire’s interconnected and complex planning process - including contention over the methodology which should be used to calculate the minimum number of new homes a council needs to build every year and whether it can demonstrate that it has five years’ worth of deliverable housing sites in the pipeline to meet that target.
Under a Central Lancashire-wide arrangement known as the “core strategy”, South Ribble was obliged to deliver 417 homes annually from 2012 as part of a plan to achieve a combined tally of 1,341 new dwellings each year with its neighbours in Preston and Chorley.
The trio entered into a subsequent agreement in 2017 which opted to continue with the minimum target set five years earlier. The original Chain House Lane appeal turned on whether or not that move constituted a formal review of local housing need in the area.
The distinction was important, because if the so-called “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) reached in 2017 was deemed to have been a review, then South Ribble’s target to deliver 417 homes a year would have continued to apply - in spite of the introduction of a new nationwide “standard method” of calculating an area’s housing requirements, under which South Ribble would have been expected to generate only 191 homes.
Wainhomes argued that if the higher figure were to be applied, South Ribble could not show that it had allocated sufficient land to meet that target on a rolling five-year basis, as required by the government. That would have left the authority open to having to permit development on land not earmarked for the purpose - including safeguarded plots - unless the disadvantages of doing so could be shown to significantly outweigh the benefits.
However, Susan Hunt, the inspector in the 2019 inquiry concluded that the MOU could not be considered a review - meaning the core strategy was out-of-date as it was over five years old and had not been formally reconsidered. In that scenario, the new standard method would apply - giving South Ribble a much lower annual housing requirement.
In the high court case brought by Wainhomes to contest that decision, the judge, Mr. Justice Dove, ruled that the original inspector’s conclusions on that point were “unclear and unlawful”.
Crucially, however, that was not the reason for him quashing Ms. Hunt’s decision, because he found that she had reached an additional - and reasonable - conclusion which also served to rendered the core strategy out of date: namely, that there was a “significant difference” between the housing need figure calculated back in 2012 and the number generated by the standard method after its introduction by the government in 2018.
Instead, he overturned her decision on the basis that she had not properly considered the impact of applying the standard method on the distribution of new dwellings between the three councils - and the fact that it rendered South Ribble’s policy on safeguarded land out of date as a result.
Following the new inquiry heard in March, Andrew Dawe has now concluded that the policy should not be disregarded in its entirety - but afforded reduced weight. He found that the document was still consistent with the recommendation in national planning policy rules requiring councils to identify areas of safeguarded land between urban locations and the greenbelt, which would not currently be allocated for development.
He added that the proposed 100-home estate on such a site could not be considered “minor”, a status which may have justified it being built on a safeguarded plot.
Both South Ribble Borough Council and Wainhomes found “common ground” at the inquiry that the MOU in 2017 did represent a review of the core strategy in which the 2012 figures were found not to require updating.
National planning policy guidance states that where such a review was carried out prior to publication of the revised national planning policy framework in July 2018, but within the last five years, then those original local arrangements will be regarded as up-to-date development policies that should guide planning decisions in an area - unless there have been “significant changes in circumstances”.
While Mr. Dawe did not accept that the introduction of the standard method in itself represented such a change, he concluded that it was important to consider whether its application in a given area did so.
He also noted that, notwithstanding the government's ambition to increase the national housing stock, there was no stipulation in national planning policy guidance that a standard method housing need calculation could only be considered significantly different from a local policy like the Central Lancashire strategy if it resulted in a higher figure.
In South Ribble’s case the 191 minimum requirement under the standard method is less than half that of the 417 figure generated by the core strategy in 2012.
In his 13-page decision document, Mr. Dawe said the fact that the Central Lancashire joint local plan is on the horizon in the next two-and-a-half years “does not diminish the situation whereby the local housing need figure based on the [standard method] represents a significant change in circumstances at the current time”.
He concluded that South Ribble’s minimum housebuilding target should be set at 191, meaning the borough could demonstrate anything between 10.1 and 12.7 years’ worth of deliverable housing sites - far in excess of the five years required.
As a result, there was “no substantive basis to consider that the site should be disregarded as safeguarded land and there is no housing need requirement to justify its development now”, Mr. Dawe wrote.
He also rejected an application by Wainhomes to recover part of their inquiry costs from South Ribble Borough Council, after concluding that the authority had not acted unreasonably in any of the defences it had mounted.
Wainhomes was approached for comment.