The Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal that George Baird will be able to take into account last week’s finding by a separate inspector that South Ribble Borough Council was justified in refusing permission for 100 homes in the village of Whitestake – even though it was published after Mr. Baird’s own inquiry into plans for seven estates to the north of Preston had closed.
It will come as a boost to Preston City Council’s hopes of seeing its decision to refuse permission for the developments upheld – because the Whitestake inspector’s conclusion that the so-called “standard method” should be used to calculate how many homes are to be built in an area is exactly the case that Preston mounted at the inquiry into applications for six proposed developments around Goosnargh and another near Longridge. Mr. Baird headed a three-week appeal hearing into those proposals back in April and is expected publish his findings in the autumn.
A spokesperson for the Planning Inspectorate stressed that individual inspectors are “independent and impartial” – and acknowledged that they are not bound solely by what is presented to them when their inquiries are sitting.
“When making a decision, inspectors give careful consideration to the evidence submitted at the time of the appeal taking account of current planning legislation, guidance and policy.
“The inspector may well also take into account recent decisions of a similar nature when considering all the evidence prior to making their decision,” the spokesperson added.
The city council claimed at the Goosnargh hearings that the new standard method introduced by the government in 2018 represented a “significant change in circumstances” – the like of which would allow it to change how it determines its minimum level of new housing need.
Under the “core strategy” for development agreed between Preston, South Ribble and Chorley councils in 2012, Preston was obliged to build 507 new properties per year. However, six years later, the city council could no longer demonstrate that it had five years’ worth of land set aside to meet that requirement – as demanded by national planning policy.
That meant it was often forced to approve applications for housing on land which was not intended for development – including in areas of open countryside, like those proposed for Goosnargh.
When the Whitestake case was first the subject of an appeal to a planning inspector back in 2019, it was ruled that the standard method should be used, overriding the local core strategy agreement.
When applied in Preston, that gave the city a far lower target of 250 homes per year. It enabled the city council to revisit the Goosnargh and Longridge applications – for which it had originally granted permission – and instead to refuse them.
However, Preston’s relief was short lived when the original Whitestake inquiry decision was quashed by a High Court judge last summer – and became one of the key points relied upon by the developers in the Goosnargh appeals to argue that the higher core strategy figure should once again apply in Preston and the applications be given the go-ahead.
Responding to the latest tortuous twist which has now seen a second Whitestake inspector come to the same conclusion as the first, Chris Hayward – Preston City Council’s director of development and housing – said he hoped the decision would lead to “consistency” in Planning Inspectorate decisions across Central Lancashire.
Chris Blackburn, the authority’s planning policy team lead, has previously accused developers of trying to cherry pick the application of those development policies that “suit them most” when submitting proposals for housing in different parts of Central Lancashire.
The latest Whitestake decision could also give succour to Preston in their own High Court challenge to yet another planning inspector’s ruling in February that overturned a decision to refuse permission for 151 homes off the A6 in Barton.
The inspector in that case had concluded that the higher core strategy figure should still be applied, because a 2017 “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) between the neighbouring Central Lancashire authorities – in which they agreed that their respective annual housing targets should be maintained – constituted a formal review of the local arrangements.
That mattered because under the government’s national planning policy framework, the standard method would only apply in circumstances where local development policies were over five years old – unless they had been reviewed and found not to need updating.
It was something that lawyers for the developers at the Goosnargh and Longridge appeals had argued was a “binary” issue – claiming that Preston’s approach in applying the standard method from late 2019 onwards had not been justified.
Following the most recent Whitestake appeal decision, Preston City Council has now reassessed its five-year supply of housing land based on the estimated delivery time of developments it has already approved.
Crucially, the authority claims that it now has sufficient land set aside irrespective of whether it has to deliver 507 dwellings or its latest standard method figure of 254 per year – with the respective targets meaning it has 6.1 and 15.3 years’ worth of housing plots available based on a forecast supply of 4,075 dwellings over the next five years.
A total of 1,656 new homes were built in Preston in the two years to March 2021, during which time the city’s long-term deficit in housing delivery dating back to 2003 was halved to leave an outstanding 628 properties.
Mr. Hayward said in a statement on the Whitestake decision: “We are aware that the Planning Inspectorate has dismissed an appeal relating to land at Chain House Lane in South Ribble and has advised that planners use the government’s housing figure to assess housing land supply for the area, because the housing figure contained in the local plan is out of date.
“Officers from Preston City Council made the same argument at the recent Public Inquiry for the outstanding appeals relating to sites in Goosnargh and Longridge, and this decision has ramifications for those appeals. We hope a similar outcome is reached by the Planning Inspectorate to provide consistency across the area.
“We have recently published our annual recalculation of housing supply and we believe these new figures show that Preston has a sufficient five year supply of housing moving forward, and we continue to demonstrate high levels of new housing – and affordable housing – delivery across the city.
“Whilst we welcome new development and housing in Preston it is important that any new developments are built in the right places, in line with our development plan.”
APPEALING SITES FOR DEVELOPMENT
These are the seven plots where developers have appealed against the refusal of permission to build:
Bushells Farm, Mill Lane, Goosnargh – 140 homes (applicant: Gerald Gornall and Community Gateway Association)
Land north east of Swainson Farm, Goosnargh Lane – 87 homes (applicant: Michael Wells)
Land at Swainson Farm, Goosnargh Lane – 40 homes (applicant: Michael Wells)
Land north of Whittingham Lane – 145 homes (applicant: Gladman Developments Ltd.)
Land south of Whittingham Lane – 80 homes (applicant: Setantii Holdings Ltd.)
Land around 826 Whittingham Lane – 65 homes (applicant: Setantii Holdings Ltd.)
Old Rib Farm, Longridge – 45 homes (applicant: Community Gateway Association)