Chorley residents need to know that decisions about development in the borough can be taken years before individual planning applications are made – and that the time for them to have their say is now.
That was the message from the chair of Chorley Council’s “green agenda” task group, Steve Holgate, who warned that the planning system is commonly misunderstood – and appealed for locals to take up their “civic responsibility”.
While planning permission for individual housing and employment schemes is granted on a case-by-case basis, the broader principle of whether a particular plot of land should be earmarked for building is established with the creation of an area’s ‘local plan’.
That policy sets the direction for development over the course of more than a decade – leaving the fine details of specific proposals to be decided at a later date.
Chorley Council is currently working with its neighbouring authorities in Preston and South Ribble to create the first local plan for the whole of Central Lancashire. A public consultation into potential sites that might be released for development through to the mid-2030s is running until 14th February.
“If a field is being built on now, that decision will have been made during the [last] local plan process [in 2015].
“We should be making sure that every single person knows that there is a review taking place now – and that in 18 months’ time, it will be too late to object. It won’t be too late to object to the style and density [of the properties which are ultimately built] – but as for opposing the allocation of pieces of land, that opportunity will be gone,” Cllr Holgate said told a meeting of the task group.
Committee member Gordon France said that people were unaware that a series of public engagement sessions is currently taking place across the borough – but that a leaflet drop in the Wheelton and Withnell area had grabbed residents’ attention about the issues at stake.
“People were queuing up for that meeting – it wasn’t a frightener leaflet, but it got people to come out,” he said.
But Cllr Holgate cautioned against the “misinformation” that was sometimes distributed amid a dearth of public understanding.
The so-called “issues and options” consultation lists all of the hundreds of sites that were suggested for development during a separate exercise last year – which permitted any individual or company to put forward a plot of land for possible inclusion in the local plan, irrespective of whether they owned it.
“Most of the suggestions won’t progress, because they’re not required [to meet housebuilding targets],” Cllr Holgate explained.
“But a lot of people have got their nose to the grindstone – they haven’t got the luxury even to pick up the Chorley Guardian or Lancashire Post to find out what’s going on.
“Yet if they want to protect their local environment, that’s what they need to do – civic responsibility is something that’s declined over the years and it’s a shame.
“People leave it to others and then point the finger,” he added.
To take part in the local plan public consultation, visit: www.centrallocalplan.lancashire.gov.uk