Chorley tries to see off 'speculative' plans for over 500 new homes

The leader of Chorley Council has appealed to developers not to cash in - and for the government to step in - over a doubling in the number of houses that the borough is expected to build.

By Paul Faulkner
Sunday, 31st January 2021, 6:14 pm
Updated Monday, 1st February 2021, 10:29 am

Alistair Bradley made the call after it emerged that more than half of the sites the authority has reserved for its future housing needs have now been the subject of applications for immediate development - totalling over 500 potential new homes.

The so-called “safeguarded land” is not part of the borough's local plan - and so would normally be off limits to housebuilders until the point at which the council chose to release it.

However, a planning appeal ruling last year - in which the council’s decision to refuse permission for 180 new homes on Pear Tree Lane in Euxton was overturned - has left Chorley open to applications that it would ordinarily have been able to refuse outright.

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Chorley Council has received applications to build on more than half of its "safeguarded" land - including a plot off Tinklers Lane in Eccleston (right)

The inspector in that case said that he could only give “limited weight” to a longstanding agreement - renewed less than a year ago - between Chorley, Preston and South Ribble to pool the number of houses each was required to build by the government and redistribute the total between them.

Mike Hayden said that outstanding objections to the arrangement needed to be tested as part of ongoing work to create a joint local plan for Central Lancashire, due to be adopted by the end of 2023.

He concluded that, in the meantime, each district should deliver its minimum housing need as calculated by a standard government formula.

The decision dealt a double blow to Chorley - sending its annual new housing figure from 278 properties under the Central Lancashire-wide agreement to 569 as a standalone authority.

In the process, it leaves the borough unable to show that it has a five-year supply of housing land available - bringing into play a presumption that it will grant permission for development, even on sites it has not yet released, unless the negative impacts of building significantly outweigh any benefits.

It is that quirk of planning legislation that has led to the slew of applications for six of Chorley’s 10 safeguarded plots - all coming within the space of three months late last year.

Cllr Bradley made a direct appeal to developers not to take advantage of a planning inspectorate decision which he says has potentially “opened the floodgates” on development in the borough’s villages.

“There are an awful lot of [housebuilders] that have made a lot of money out of [Chorley] in the past.

“If they want to go and make a few quid more, then I think they should [explain] to our residents why they think it’s more important [to do that] than do what they have been doing for a long time - which is make a bit of money over a longer period, rather than just cashing in.

“We can all cash in, but sometimes in life you’ve got to do the right thing.

“They keep telling us in their glossy brochures that they are part of the community and, in their public consultations, that they want to be responsive. Well, listen to what residents are saying and perhaps, respectfully, withdraw your applications,” urged Cllr Bradley, who said he had never received as much correspondence as he did in the wake of the Pear Tree Lane appeal.

As the applications rolled in over recent months, he also wrote to the government to request special dispensation from the so-called “standard method” of calculating housing need until Central Lancashire's local plan process is complete - a move for which there is a precedent in Oxfordshire.

However, in a response seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, housing minister Christopher Pincher MP did not extend the same flexibility to Chorley.

He said that the government’s formula had recently been amended following a consultation and was now driving development in urban areas with existing infrastructure.

The minister also addressed concerns expressed by Chorley Council about the impact of its new housing target on greenbelt. The borough is made up of a larger proportion of greenbelt than either of its Central Lancashire neighbours.

Mr. Pincher said that “even where there is an absence of a five-year housing land supply and where the presumption in favour of sustainable development applies, this will not be at the expense of important protected areas such as the greenbelt”.

However, Cllr Bradley said it was the logical “next stage” of the government’s methodology that areas like Chorley would be forced to build on greenbelt “if you use up all the sites that you are holding back for future development as and when you need it”.

He described it as a "Wild West" situation and said that ministers should recognise the contribution to the housing needs of the wider region that was made by the creation of Buckshaw Village, which counts as a Chorley development.

Part of the government’s formula bases an area’s new housing need on a percentage of its existing stock. For councils like Chorley, which has delivered 1,840 homes more than its minimum requirement over the last decade, that puts upward pressure on future housing numbers.

One the reasons for the redistribution agreement between Central Lancashire’s three councils was that Preston and South Ribble are part of the region’s City Deal - which has an express aim to deliver 17,000 new dwellings. Under the pooling arrangement, those two councils took almost three quarters of Central Lancashire’s planned annual development between them.

However, under a non-distributed system, Preston and South Ribble’s yearly totals drop sharply. Preston last month announced that it was withdrawing from the memorandum of understanding between the trio in light of the planning inspector's ruling in the Pear Tree Lane case.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says that its standard methodology does not create a specific target for housing delivery, but rather a starting point for calculating an area’s needs.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve listened to feedback from our planning consultation and we have now made changes to the standard method to enable the delivery of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, whilst continuing to protect the greenbelt and make the best use of brownfield and urban centre land.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation, criticised the length of time it takes councils to draw up a local plan.

“In a planning system fundamentally based on the requirement for local authorities to have a housing local plan place, it is vital they prepare plans quickly and efficiently.

“Failure to do so results in authorities facing the pressures that Chorley is now under.

“While joint planning for the city region is to be welcomed, a plan must be put in place quickly to ensure the delivery of much needed housing for the area in a way that allows all parties to be consulted,” Mr. Whitaker added.

‘WE DON’T NEED THESE HOUSES NOW’

Chorley councillors have backed a statement describing the six applications for development on safeguarded land as “premature”.

Designed to deter other "speculative" bids to build, it reads: “These additional homes have not been accounted for in terms of plans for infrastructure needs such as schools, transport, and health services.

We strongly encourage our partners - landowners, agents and developers - to get involved in [the local plan] process and talk to us about their future aspirations.

"The council remain committed to a plan-led approach, to providing certainty to local communities as to the location of where new housing will be and that land designated as safeguarded is not intended to meet housing need now, it is for future generations.

“There is finite land available in Chorley and it must be used carefully.”

While the declaration won unanimous cross-party support at a meeting of the full council, Conservative opposition group leader John Walker reminded the ruling Labour group that the Tories had attempted to amend the last local plan agreed in 2012 by having sites in areas like Euxton removed from it.

“[We said at the time]: ‘Current planning permissions are in place for 8.4 years which will take us to 2020, so the phasing schedule should lower the predominance of development until 2021-26’.

“So we can all shout and ball and complain, but it was this administration that accepted the local plan in 2012,” Cllr Walker said.

Council leader Alistair Bradley said that “if members had wanted to take sites out [of the 2012 local plan], they had to put [new] sites in - because we had to comply with government numbers at that point in time as well”.

He added that the government had “moved the goalposts” on housing numbers many times in the interim and that it was difficult not to over-deliver against them, because they were minimum requirements.

The statement agreed by councillors does not bind the authority’s planning committee and will not amount to a planning consideration when committee members are making decisions on individual applications.

WHERE DO DEVELOPERS WANT TO BUILD?

These are the six sites not yet allocated for housing by Chorley Council, but on which developers have nevertheless applied to build 527 new homes.

Adlington

Up to 25 dwellings on land off Carrington Road

Eccleston

Up to 80 dwellings on land off Tincklers Lane

Up to 15 dwellings, also on land off Tincklers Lane

Up to 34 dwellings on land south of Parr Lane

Coppull

Up to 123 dwellings on land adjacent to Blainscough Lane

Whittle-Le-Woods

Up to 250 dwellings off land north of Town Lane

SHARING THE NUMBERS

Redistributed under Central Lancs agreement:

Chorley - 278

Preston - 404

South Ribble - 328

Non-redistributed under government's standard method:

Chorley - 569

Preston - 250

South Ribble 191

COUNCILLORS BLAST HOUSING PLANS

Speaking of the proposed Town Lane development in Whittle-le-Woods, Clayton and Whittle ward councillor Mark Clifford said residents were "absolutely furious on hearing of these latest plans to destroy our beautiful village".

"There is no need for housing over and above what Chorley has already been delivering, these plans will destroy the rural character of Whittle-le-Woods if allowed to go ahead.

"In Chorley, we have done more than our fair share of housebuilding and the government is punishing Chorley for hitting the targets it sets by increasing the number of houses we need to build while other areas are seeing lower targets."

Chisnall ward councillor Alan Whittaker was equally scathing about plans for Ticklers Lane in Eccleston.

“Safeguarded land is intended for future, longer term, building needs - not for short-term fixes to satisfy large building companies.

"There is neither the need in the village to justify these proposals, nor the infrastructure to support the extra residents.

"If these proposals are approved, it will inevitably lead to greenbelt around Eccleston coming under threat, because the council will have to designate further land for future

building needs, in order to satisfy the government targets.”

Redrow Homes, the applicant in the proposed Tinklers Lane and Town Lane developments, carried out public consultations into its plans late last year.

At the time, Robin Buckley, planning director for Redrow Lancashire, said: "Any feedback will be taken into account prior to the submission of formal planning applications, at which point local people will have a second opportunity to respond.

“Our proposals will help to remedy a shortfall in the housing land supply in Chorley and provide much-needed affordable housing,” Mr. Buckley added.