Backlash over Preston apartment block plan that will erase 200-year-old view
A Preston resident has condemned the city council’s approval of a new apartment block on the outskirts of Winckley Square – and the way in which the decision was reached.
Steve Harrison claims that consideration of the development on the site of a disused sports hall on Garden Street was “rushed” and risks damaging important heritage assets.
Permission was granted last month for the demolition of the existing building and its replacement with a taller, seven-storey block made up of 47 apartments.
However, Mr. Harrison, who is a volunteer tour guide in the Winckley Square conservation area, warns that significant parts of Preston's past will be jeopardised by the development – and believes that the concerns of locals like him were brushed aside during the latter stages of the planning process.
More than half a dozen objections were made in the 10 days between the final proposals being confirmed by developer Northern Estates Limited and the application being considered by the council’s cross-party planning committee.
“I provided images – which were not presented to councillors - which showed the sight line from the Fishergate car park up Garden Street," Mr. Harrison said.
“From there, you can see the rear of the properties on Winckley Square - that’s a view someone would have been able to see back in 1803 and it wasn’t lost even when the current gym was built. But when the new building goes up, that vista will be gone – and part of our heritage will go with it.
“The committee had no sight of some quite detailed objections made by local residents, including those showing a history of flooding in the area.
“As was stated at the meeting, the council encouraged the applicant to demolish the sports hall and replace it with a bigger building [as opposed to initial plans to convert the existing structure]. If they had then refused permission, the developer might have felt within his rights to say: ‘I’ve done what you suggested and now I can’t get planning permission - so I’m so going to sue you.’,” Mr. Harrison mused.
A “late changes” report issued to committee members acknowledges the receipt of further objections, but states that they raise no issues beyond those already dealt with in the main agenda papers seen by councillors. The authority also stressed that it had carried out an additional, non-statutory period of consultation after the submission of majorly revised plans last November - whereas the amendments made in June were not considered “significant enough” to repeat that process.
The planning meeting heard that the final proposals actually resulted in a reduction in height of the new building from the nine storeys previously planned – which, although still higher than the sports hall, would put it below the heritage properties on Winckley Square, allowing them to “retain their dominance within the conservation area”.
However, Mr. Harrison believes that another, hidden part of the city’s history has not been given proper consideration during assessment of the plans – a Georgian-era culvert running beneath the soon-to-be-demolished sports hall.
At the request of Lancashire County Council, as the flooding authority, Preston City Council imposed a condition that the developer must submit a statement outlining how it was going to protect the feature during construction. County Hall suggested that the culvert should be diverted rather than built over once again.
“I don’t think it should be touched – you can’t see it, but it’s a heritage asset and the same one that runs across Winckley Square. It’s four feet high, you can walk through it and it’s quite an engineering feat,” said Mr. Harrison, who added that his concerns are shared by a wider group of locals and businesspeople.
“At the meeting, the experience of the developer in building over these things was described at great length, but according to the county council, it should not be built over, but diverted. They also say there should be no building within eight metres of a culvert, yet in this case, the nearest building is less than eight meters away - so how can it be done?”
Mr. Harrison added that the applicant should have had to carry out an “appropriate assessment” of the heritage feature as part of the application process.
Mohammed Afaq, from 1618 Architects, the firm which is working on the project and spoke on behalf of the applicant at the planning committee meeting, told the Lancashire Post that all queries about the culvert had been answered during the consultation stage.
He added: “There is already a building on the site and we will simply be looking to replicate the new [one] on its current footprint. We will off course take whatever precautions we need in order to protect the culvert and ensure its stability and safety.”
Northern Estates Limited was approached for further comment on the issues raised by Mr. Harrison.
COUNCIL “ENTIRELY SATISFIED” ISSUES HAVE BEEN ADDRESSED
Preston City Council’s cabinet member for planning and regulation, Peter Moss, said planning requests submitted to the authority are processed by officers who are “experts in their field”.
“[Applications] are brought to the planning committee with all the relevant details and reports thoroughly considered and with relevant recommendations for committee members.
“As the local planning authority, we are under a statutory duty to determine major applications such as this in 13 weeks, but in this case we agreed several extensions of time with the applicant. Once an application is policy-complaint, either on submission or by amendment, government advice is to approve without delay, so the application was considered at the next planning committee meeting after it was amended - this is common practice.
“There is no statutory duty to re-consult local residents when a scheme is amended, but all representations received are summarised in every committee report and any further representations received after the committee report has been published are summarised in a late changes report sent out the day before the meeting. The protocol for public speaking states we cannot facilitate the presentation of photographs or plans from applicants, agents and other third parties whilst virtual planning committee meetings are taking place in the current circumstances.
“Ecological, heritage and flood risk issues, amongst others, are considered with the advice of technical experts in those areas. Officers act on that advice to avoid or mitigate harm from the proposed development.
“In this case, we are entirely satisfied that all environmental issues have been satisfactorily addressed and there would be no adverse environmental impacts of granting planning permission,” Cllr Moss added.