Chorley Council’s planning committee last year approved a bid by Redrow Homes to build 115 properties on land off Nell Lane in Cuerden. However, the developer was refused permission to create an entry from Nell Lane itself, because of the damage that it would cause to the picturesque route.
Instead, the housebuilder was told that access would have to be taken from a neighbouring estate it had already built on Parkhurst Avenue.
However, since then, control of much of the land has passed to another company – Monaco Nell Lane Limited – which has revived Redrow’s previous proposals, including the contested entrance, which would see the loss of 60 metres of hedgerow.
However, it was the potential impact of the proposal on Nell Lane that was once again the focus of the discussion.
Ward councillor Peter Gabbott told the committee that it would have a “significant and severe impact on road safety” and it was “unthinkable that [the applicant] wants construction vehicles careering up and down each day”.
Speaking at a planning meeting for the first time in his capacity as the authority's champion for the environment, Cllr Mark Clifford branded the application as being "on a whole different level of badness".
"Nell Lane is the last surviving example of a rural country lane that we have in Clayton-Le-Woods and Cuerden," he said, desctibing it as a "quintessential English country lane".
Cuerden parish councillor Mark Brown said that the canopy-style foliage along the rural route gave a it a “rare character” which would be threatened by the plans – which include widening much of the lane to almost double its current dimensions in parts and introducing traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps and new signage.
But the agent for the application claimed that the recent creation of a pop-up cycle and pedestrian route along Nell Lane – by temporarily closing it to vehicular traffic – would put the proposals in a different light if they were to be made permanent.
Fran Lennon said that the proposed safety measures – designed to deter excess speeds and discourage drivers from using the route as a cut-through – would not then be necessary.
“The traffic that would be generated from the development would be minimal in comparison to the rat-running that existed previously.
“The reduction in vehicle movements along the lane would reduce the existing conflict between pedestrians and vehicles,” said Ms. Lennon, appealing for the application to be deferred pending further discussions.
Lancashire County Council has not put a time limit on the duration of the road closure, but it was introduced as a temporary measure during the pandemic and would require public consultation if it were to be made permanent.
Wildlife Trust for Lancashire chief executive and local resident, Anne Selby, argued that the “sense of place” created since Nell Lane’s closure should weigh against the access proposal, rather than in favour of it.
She added: “We need nature’s recovery, not it’s destruction – we can’t afford just to casually throw it away.”
Meanwhile, committee members rounded on the decision to resubmit the plans.
Cllr Neville Whitham described it as “an audacious attempt to circumvent the democratic process of this planning committee”.
The mood was summed up by Cllr Alistair Morwood who rhetorically asked, “What is there to think about?”
“Let’s take a lane that has been there for centuries, double its width, put in nice white road markings, street lights, speed bumps, and rip out 60 metres of hedging – we’re going to agree to that? Absolutely not,” he stormed.
The committee refused the application in its entirety, after planning officers also concluded that there was no justification on financial viability grounds for the developer to refuse to meet the required quota of affordable homes and make a contribution to public open space.
A separate application to run a sewer pipe through Cuerden Valley Park to serve the proposed housing development was withdrawn before the meeting after being recommended for refusal.