Another legal challenge to 100-home South Ribble estate - and how Preston and Chorley might be affected

A planning application that has become pivotal in determining how many new homes are built in Central Lancashire each year will go before a high court judge for a second time.

By Paul Faulkner
Thursday, 12th August 2021, 6:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th August 2021, 6:20 pm

The proposal – by developer Wainhomes – to construct 100 properties on land off Chain House Lane in the South Ribble village of Whitestake was first rejected by borough councillors more than two years ago.

That decision was upheld on appeal to a planning inspector in December 2019, but then overturned last August after the housebuilder mounted its first high court challenge. The judge in the case ordered that the application be re-examined by a different planning inspector – who duly agreed with the original decision of South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee to refuse it.

That was just six weeks ago – and the outcome was greeted with delight by the Say No To Chain House Lane group, whose lead campaigner Jean Berry said she hoped Wainhomes “don’t come back”. But that’s exactly what the firm has done – seeking a statutory review of the latest Planning Inspectorate decision and so sending the matter back to the high court.

The controversial - and crucial - Chain House Lane site in Whitestake

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South Ribble’s cabinet member for planning, business support and regeneration, Bill Evans, said in response to the housebuilder’s latest move that the authority had received notification of it, adding: “As an interested party, we are considering this matter very carefully and obtaining advice on the next steps.”

Wainhomes has declined to comment on its legal challenge.

The move comes exactly a year after high court judge Mr. Justice Dove overturned the decision of the the planning inspector in the 2019 inquiry, Susan Hunt, to uphold the council’s refusal of planning permission for the estate.

He did so on the basis that she had not properly considered the impact of applying the so-called “standard method” of calculating housing targets on the distribution of new dwellings between the three councils – and the fact that it rendered South Ribble’s policy on what is known “safeguarded land” out of date.

Crucially, the Chain House Lane plot is a safeguarded site – meaning that it is not currently earmarked for development, but may be released for housebuilding at some point in the future.

His decision did not hand Wainhomes permission for the estate, but saw a new inquiry convened under a different inspector, Andrew Dawe

Mr. Dawe concluded that the safeguarded land 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 also found that South Ribble’s minimum annual housebuilding target should be set at 191 – just under half the figure arrived at under a previous agreement with Chorley and Preston councils in 2012. That meant 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 by the government.

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.

The latest legal challenge comes just a fortnight after senior figures in Preston and South Ribble councils backed a plea from neighbouring Chorley Council for more consistency in planning appeal decisions affecting the three districts.

Under the agreement between the three Central Lancashire authorities in 2012 – known as the “core strategy” – Preston would be obliged to build 507 properties each year and Chorley and South Ribble 417 each.

If the government’s standard methodology of determining housing need, introduced in 2018, is deemed to have superseded those local arrangements, then the figures are radically altered – with Preston and South Ribble’s annual new dwelling numbers falling to 254 and 191 respectively and Chorley’s shooting up to 569.

That has a knock-on effect on whether a council can show that it has five years’ worth of land set aside to meet its new housing requirements – and on the type of land that it is required to release for development as a result.

The vast difference in housing volumes yielded in the three areas under the two calculations means that when a decision is made by a planning inspector that the standard method should be used, it makes planning easier for Preston and South Ribble – but puts Chorley under pressure.

It was just such a conclusion that was reached by the inspector in the Chain House Lane case back in June – meaning that the most recent Planning Inspectorate decision gives Preston and South Ribble much lower housing figures than neighbouring Chorley.

As the Post revealed last month, the timing could give a boost to Preston City Council’s hopes of successfully defending appeals against its decision to refuse permission from more than 600 homes, mostly around Goosnargh. The outcome of a joint public inquiry into those cases is due in the autumn – and the inspector can take into account the conclusion of his colleague in the Whitestake case, which continues to stand unless or until it is overturned in court and sent back to be heard by another planning inspector.