Traveller family's latest bid to stay on Heath Charnock green belt site as 12-year saga rumbles on
A traveller family is making a latest attempt to stay on the Chorley green belt site it has controversially lived on for more than 10 years.
The Linfoots own the land - which had permission for horses and stabling - at Hut Lane, Heath Charnock, where they have been living since June 2009.
Since then they have been at the centre of a planning and legal dispute with Chorley Council which appeared to have been resolved when the authority identified a traveller site in the Local Plan.
That followed a High Court ruling in 2012 that the council had to grant planning permission for the family to remain at Hut Lane temporarily as there was no alternative site in the borough.
But five years on from the council choosing a site at Cowling Farm, the Linfoots - after being granted a sequence of temporary permissions to stay at Hut Lane - claim the identified site, which is estimated to cost more than £1 million, may never be developed.
Chorley Council has now received a planning application from Michael Linfoot, who is seeking permission to change the use of the Hut Lane land to a residential gypsy and traveller
site with up to two mobile homes and five touring caravans and live there permanently.
The application says there are "very special circumstances" for planning permission to be granted.
A supporting statement reads:"Over five and a half years after the Local Plan was adopted, we are no nearer the proposed new traveller site being developed.
"Each time the Linfoot’s applied for planning permission on Hut Lane, the council assumed what proved to be an unrealistically optimistic timetable for how quickly the Cowling Farm site could be developed.
"In March 2017 the council sold part of Cowling Farm to Homes England, with Homes England responsible for developing the southern part of the site for housing, and the council responsible for developing the northern part for employment, the travellers site and potentially housing.
"We understand that Homes England opposed taking access to the traveller site through their residential site, which may be discriminatory.
"The council and Homes England have commissioned a significant amount of technical work on Cowling Farm. We are not party to all that work, nor to its financial implications. However, our understanding is that the road access has added to the construction costs, and combined with the costs of drainage, utilities and ground levelling it has meant that development of both the employment uses and traveller site within the council’s section of Cowling Farm are unviable.
"There was public consultation on a masterplan for Cowling Farm in Autumn 2018. We understood this would be followed by planning applications on the council’s and Homes England’s sections, but this has not happened."
The statement adds that "there is no evidence the Cowling Farm site will ever be developed" and concludes: "This means there is unmet need for gypsy and traveller residential
accommodation in Chorley, and no means of accommodating that need, apart from on Hut Lane."
It adds that without Hut Lane the council does not have the required five-year supply of deliverable sites for gypsies and travellers and that apart from that it is the green belt, the site at Hut Lane is "highly suitable to provide the required deliverable site. It is available, and already developed as a good quality traveller site".
Cowling Farm is at the rear of the Spinners at Cowling pub, which is supporting the Linfoots' bid to stay at Hut Lane and has described the plans for a traveller site as "a complete and unnecessary waste of public funds particularly in the current financial climate".
In a statement, Emma and Glen Hutchinson, landlords of the Spinners at Cowling, said: "The council's objective is to relocate a Romany Gypsy family who have resided in Heath Charnock for the last 12 years on a site they own, maintain and have occupied since 2009.
In 2012, the High Court found the council had not made any provision for a Traveller site in the local plan, and the absence of that provision justified the granting of a temporary permission for a Hut Lane site.
"Since 2013 the council has granted four separate temporary planning permissions,the latest of which expires July 2021.
"In anticipation of this deadline the family has lodged a new planning application under planning ref Ref. No: 21/00072/FUL to get permanent residency to remain at their current home which would be at no cost to Chorley council taxpayers.
"The family would appreciate any support (or objections) to their planning application to remain in Heath Charnock by registering on my Chorley and submit comments to the planning application by April 20.
"The council have a target date of May 13 to determine the application so please submit any comments as soon as possible."
Chorley Council Chief Executive Gary Hall said: “We’ve received an application regarding Hut Lane and this will be considered in line with our planning policies.
"We are developing a proposal for a permanent site at Cowling Farm and we are working with Homes England with a view to submitting a planning application for that whole site in the coming months.”