Consultation coming on where houses should be built in Preston, Chorley and South Ribble, as councils call for 'consistency' in appeal decisions

Senior figures in Preston and South Ribble councils have backed a plea from neighbouring Chorley for more consistency in planning appeal decisions affecting the three districts.

By Paul Faulkner
Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 12:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 12:19 pm

As the Lancashire Post revealed last week, Chorley chief Alistair Bradley has asked local government secretary Robert Jenrick to step in and make the final call over three forthcoming appeals by developers who have been refused permission to build over 450 homes in the borough.

After sending a letter to the secretary of state, Cllr Bradley condemned what he called the “constant flip-flopping” whenever cases in Central Lancashire are put before a planning inspector.

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Just some of Central Lancashire's controversial and contested sites where housebuilding has been proposed and refused - Bushell's Farm in Goosnargh (left), currently the subject of an appeal with a decision due in the autumn; Town Lane in Whittle-le-Woods (top right), with an appeal hearing beginning later this month; and land off Chain House Lane in Whitestake (bottom right), where a decision to refuse permission was upheld by a planning inspector in June

Now, the leader of South Ribble Borough Council and Preston City Council’s planning boss have also said that there has been too much inconsistency in the appeals process.

The trio of authorities have co-operated for almost a decade over how many new homes should be built in each part of the wider Central Lancashire patch.

However, as the Post has previously reported, that arrangement has recently become the focus of a wrangle between the councils and developers – and taken centre stage in a series of appeals by housebuilders challenging refusals of permission to build on several controversial plots.

The cases have hinged on how the minimum annual new housing requirement for each area should be calculated. The two alternative possibilities generate very different results – and planning inspectors have often had different interpretations of which one should apply in a given district.

Under a Central Lancashire-wide agreement dating back to 2012 – known as the “core strategy” – Preston would be obliged to build 507 properties each year and Chorley and South Ribble 417 each.

If the government’s so-called “standard method” of determining housing need, introduced in 2018, is deemed to have superseded those local arrangements, then the figures are radically altered – with Preston and South Ribble’s annual new dwelling numbers falling to 254 and 191 respectively and Chorley’s shooting up to 569.

That has a knock-on effect on whether a council can show that it has five years’ worth of land set aside to meet its new housing requirements, as demanded by the government – and on the type of land that it is required to release for development as a result.

The vast difference in housing volumes yielded in the three areas under the two calculations means that when a decision is made by a planning inspector that the standard method should be used, it makes planning easier for Preston and South Ribble – but piles the pressure on Chorley.

In June, just such a conclusion was reached by an inspector hearing what has become a pivotal case in the Central Lancashire planning saga – the refusal of plans to build 100 homes on Chain House Lane in the South Ribble village of Whitestake. That decision was upheld, meaning the most recent Planning Inspectorate decision gives Preston and South Ribble much lower housing figures than neighbouring Chorley.

As the Post revealed last month, the timing could give a boost to Preston City Council’s hopes of successfully defending appeals against its decision to refuse permission from more than 600 homes, mostly around Goosnargh. The outcome of a joint public inquiry into those cases is due in the autumn – and the inspector can take into account the conclusion of his colleague in the Whitestake case.

However, the three neighbouring authorities know from experience that good fortune can be fleeting when it comes to planning appeals in Central Lancashire – and Preston and South Ribble have both echoed the call from Chorley for consistency in the decision-making process when applications go to appeal.

“We absolutely support Alistair Bradley in his call to government to recover outstanding planning appeals and wholly support his statements in relation to the government and Planning inspectorate’s inconsistent and frankly confusing decisions, “ said South Ribble leader Paul Foster.

“It’s imperative that the government and the Planning Inspectorate move forward with a consistent and logical approach and I look forward to reading the government’s response with interest.”

Chris Hayward, director of development and housing at Preston City Council, said: “It is important that planning appeal decisions are consistent and we feel there has been too much inconsistency in Central Lancashire.

“We are pleased that the latest decision regarding Chain House Lane in South Ribble is in line with our position on how housing land supply should be calculated and are hopeful that upcoming planning appeal decisions for land in Goosnargh and Longridge will reach a similar decision.”

In a reflection of the speed with which the planning situation in Central Lancashire can change, it was only in April that Preston lost an appeal against its refusal of permission to build over 150 homes off the A6 in Barton. The decision of the planning inspector in that case was that the core strategy agreement should still apply – thereby putting Chorley on a firmer footing when it came to being able to prove it had sufficient land set aside for new housing.

It was on that basis that the authority refused the three applications that Cllr Bradley now wants to see the government rule on – in Eccleston, Whittle-le-Woods and Coppull.

In a further twist in Central Lancashire’s seemingly interminable planning saga, an agreement between Preston, Chorley and South Ribble to pool their collective new housing target and then redistribute it between them unravelled last year – again, based on the findings of a planning inspector.

A 2020 version of a so-called “memorandum of understanding” between the three councils – which was first entered into three years earlier – saw Preston required to build 404 properties per year, South Ribble 328 and Chorley 278. That redistribution of the standard method calculation was intended to reflect the need for Preston and South Ribble to build relatively more homes because of their participation in the jobs and homes-boosting City Deal – and the fact that Chorley has the largest proportion of greenbelt land out of the three.

However, an inspector who overturned Chorley Council’s refusal of permission for 180 homes on land off Pear Tree Lane in Euxton found that the arrangement could only be given “limited weight”, because it was yet to be tested as part of the process to create a joint local plan between the three councils.

Cllr Bradley told a Chorley Council meeting last month that the joint working between his authority and Preston and South Ribble was “holding together despite every effort of this government and the Planning Inspectorate to divide our communities and our local plan arrangements”.

Work is continuing on the creation of the local plan document – which will dictate development across Central Lancashire for more than decade – with the authorities still aiming to have finalised the plan by the end of 2023.

A recent meeting of the Central Lancashire joint advisory committee heard that a public consultation on the “preferred options” of sites that could be deemed suitable for development is now expected to launch by the end of the year.

The team leading the local plan process in Central Lancashire has previously issued several invitations for suggested plots where new homes could be built in future.

The preferred options consultation has been delayed by the need to factor in ongoing work connected to the wider Greater Lancashire Plan which is exploring the “economic aspirations” of the county and where growth will be focused – the conclusions of which will have to be considered in the Central Lancashire local plan process.

The preferred sites will be categorised on the basis of the proposed zones in the the government’s forthcoming planning bill – with land in “growth” areas intended to receive automatic outline planning permission, “renewal” sites being subject either to the same fast-track process or the current system and development in “protected” areas like greenbelt remaining restricted.

The meeting was also told that the three authorities have been receiving requests from other Lancashire councils about the potential capacity for co-operating over housing needs across an even wider footprint. Responses to such approaches – where they have been made individually to Preston, Chorley and South Ribble – will be prepared on behalf of all three councils because of the likely impact of any proposals across Central Lancashire as a whole.

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