Permission was granted in a planning inspectorate ruling that could have major implications for how many houses are built right across Chorley - potentially leading to 1,300 more new dwellings over the next five years than the borough had intended.
Gladman Developments Limited first put forward its plans - for land off Pear Tree Lane - back in 2016. Chorley Council’s planning committee rejected the bid - and the housebuilder lost an appeal against that decision a year later.
However, the proposal was brought back before councillors last November, when Gladman claimed the “safeguarded” status of the land – which meant that it had not yet been released for development – no longer applied. But committee members again refused permission and dismissed the developer’s claim that the authority’s policies were “out of date”.
Now, a planning inspector has overturned that most recent committee conclusion and approved the scheme, after finding that the authority did not have sufficient land allocated to meet disputed housebuilding targets in the borough.
It prompted Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley to claim that local authorities were at risk of losing “local control” over planning.
“It’s an extremely disappointing decision, as the borough has more than done its fair share of housebuilding over the last few years - and it seems we are being punished for hitting the targets set by government.
“In part, I feel this decision has been made in light of the government’s clear commitment to see more houses built, which has been re-emphasised in the last few months,” Cllr Bradley said.
The planned estate in Euxton has long been the focus of local protests and when last year’s application was thrown out by Chorley’s planning committee, the move was greeted with applause from around two dozen objectors who had gathered at the town hall.
The planning inspector’s overturning of that decision hinged on an agreement between Chorley and its neighbouring councils in Preston and South Ribble to share housebuilding targets across the wider Central Lancashire area.
The three authorities earlier this year renewed a permitted arrangement to redistribute how many new homes each of them is obliged to build under a calculation set by the government - while still meeting the combined total for all three districts.
Without that agreement, Chorley would have been forced to deliver 569 homes per year – 56 percent of the annual total for the sub-region, in spite of having only a third of its population and workforce and the most greenbelt of the three areas.
Under the so-called “memorandum of understanding” reached between the neighbouring authorities, Chorley’s share of development more than halved to 278 dwellings – while Preston took the majority, 404 properties, and South Ribble was allocated 328.
Unlike Chorley, the other two councils are part of the City Deal, one of the aims of which is to boost housing supplies.
The target set for each area is crucial in determining how much land needs to be set aside to enable five years’ worth of housing to be delivered – as required under government planning rules.
Based on the redistributed 278 target, Chorley could demonstrate a five-and-a-half year supply – but using the original 569 total, this would drop to just two and a half years.
The inspector, Mike Hayden, concluded that the higher target should be the basis for the land supply calculation – and so ruled that Chorley was unable to show that it had sufficient housing sites available.
According to Mr. Hayden’s assessment, Chorley has a shortfall of 1,373 new homes against what he says should be a five-year target of 2,990.
He said that the council's case did have "merit" - and did not award costs against the authority.
However, he added that only “limited weight” could be attached to the agreement between the three authorities, because there were “significant unresolved objections” to the resultant figures which are yet to be tested in the forthcoming public examination process that will take place ahead of the adoption of a joint local plan between the districts.
The authorities would have a stronger basis for defending their redistributed totals once they are formalised within the local plan, which is due to be completed in late 2023.
A consortium of developers last year registered their discontent at the memorandum of understanding, which is designed to bridge the gap until the local plan process is complete.
If a council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, all applications must be treated on the presumption that they will be approved - unless granting them permission would be significantly outweighed by their negative impact. Mr. Hayden said that the Pear Tree Lane site would make up 13 percent of Chorley's identified shortfall in housing, as well as helping to address a gap in affordable dwellings in the borough.
However, he acknowledged that if the higher housing target for Chorley were formally set as part of the ongoing local plan process, it would “represent a significant shift away from the current spatial strategy and housing distribution for the sub-region”.
Leader of the Conservative opposition group, John Walker, said he was “disappointed” by the decision.
“Given the number of houses we have built in past years, Chorley had agreed with Preston and South Ribble that our total should be reduced – and I regret the fact that the inspector has not accepted that,
"There has been a lot of development in the Euxton area without services being added like a GP surgery.
"The Conservative group did push to get the Pear Tree Lane site removed from the local plan when it was drawn up in 2012, so that it wouldn't have been available for development," Cllr Walker added.
The government’s housing delivery test shows that Chorley built 116 percent of the new homes it was required to between 2016 and 2019.
Cllr Bradley said that the inspector may have felt that his “hands were tied”.
“Having been the only borough to consistently hit targets for housebuilding in Lancashire the figures used to calculate what is deemed a five-year supply in this case were inflated significantly for Chorley and go against what we expect to be set as we work on a joint plan for Central Lancashire,” he said.
Gladman Developments Limited was approached for comment.
ROW OVER RESPONSIBILITY
Conservative Lancashire county councillor Aidy Riggott, who represents the Euxton, Buckshaw and Astley division, said that he shared the “deep disappointment” which would be felt by locals who have resisted the Pear Tree Lane development for over four years.
However, he laid the blame for the current situation at the door of the town hall.
“[The residents], alongside Euxton Parish Council, fought a vigorous campaign against this application and should be proud of holding this back for as long as they have.
“However, it seems clear to me that Chorley Council have got their sums wrong. The massive over-delivery in housing numbers of circa 1,600 dwellings over the last 10 years, which generated significant New Homes Bonus cash [from the government], has now come back to bite - and it’s the residents of Euxton who are suffering from this approach.
“My fear now is what village or community will be blighted next given Chorley Council’s local plan appears to be in tatters.”
Cllr Bradley, speaking in his capacity as Labour group leader in Chorley, said that any short-term financial boost from building new homes was soon swallowed up by the extra costs brought by servicing it over the longer-term. He also suggested that the government was penalising the borough for its strong past performance.
“They appear to believe that as Chorley - unlike most of Lancashire and the UK - has built new homes for families over the last few years, we should be forced to carry on building even more.
“This is not acceptable and it is time that other areas contributed equally - and this is what we have proposed along with Preston and South Ribble.
“Unfortunately, this decision means that under Boris Johnson’s recently re-stated Tory party plan for uncontrolled development, almost every green field in Chorley is now at risk.
“I call on local Conservatives to stand up and reject this deeply flawed policy, which, if unopposed, will devastate all of our beautiful villages.”
The Conservative group on the authority was approached for further comment.
Last week, the government set out its intention to radically overhaul the planning system, with most land set to be categorised into three zones which would determine whether planning applications within those areas were approved – rather than the case-by-case assessment of each proposal that is currently carried out either by council officers or planning committees.
Automatic approval would be granted within so-called “growth” zones, while areas of “renewal” would also be considered suitable for development provided the proposals met local requirements. “Protected” zones would include areas such as greenbelt, where building would continue to be tightly-controlled.
The public’s right to a say would shift from individual applications to the point at which the different zones were drawn up within a council area as part of a revised and speedier local plan process.
Local government secretary Robert Jenrick said that the country’s “complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need”.
He added: “It takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.
“These once-in-a-generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country.
“We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.”