Controversial Preston village housing developments back before planners - and one gets the go-ahead
A trio of previously-considered bids to build almost 300 homes in villages to the north of Preston have been given a fresh hearing – with one of them now getting the green light.
Thirty homes will be built on a plot on the outskirts of Grimsargh - after councillors initially deferred their decision on a recommendation for refusal earlier in the year.
However, plans for over 260 others were refused outright for a second time.
It is the third time in total that each of the applications for development – all in areas of open countryside - has been debated, part of a wider batch of boomerang proposals that keep reappearing before Preston City Council’s planning committee.
They were all initially approved at some point during 2019 when the authority was unable to show that it had a five-year supply of land available to meet its then housing target.
Under planning legislation, that meant the city council had to pass proposals for housebuilding on land that it had not earmarked for development, unless it could show that their negative impact would “significantly outweigh” their benefits.
Over 900 homes were approved under those circumstances, but formal notices confirming the decisions of the planning committee were not immediately issued – in some instances because the government was considering whether to formally “call them in” for reconsideration at the request of Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace.
However, late last year, the decision of a planning inspector in an unrelated appeal case in South Ribble had a ripple effect on the other side of the river.
That ruling concluded that Central Lancashire’s three district councils – which have had an agreement to redistribute their new housing targets between them for nearly a decade - should be using a more up-to-date way of calculating the minimum numbers required in each area.
The result was that Preston’s share – after redistribution - dropped from 510 properties per year to 410.
Crucially, in that scenario, the city could show that it had enough land allocated to meet the reduced target.
The applications which had been left in limbo were all re-examined in February this year in light of the changed position – and the permissions become refusals or, in the case of the Grimsargh application, a recommendation from planning officers that it should be refused.
The inspector’s conclusion in the South Ribble appeal has since been quashed and the matter will be considered again at a fresh planning inquiry. However, a decision by Preston to withdraw from a Central Lancashire-wide agreement on housing targets means that its minimum annual housebuilding requirement is now lower still - at 250.
In the meantime, three of the Preston village applicants recently resubmitted their original plans. All were once again recommended for refusal by council planning officers - but, this time, the decisions of the planning committee were far less clear cut.
PRESTON ROAD, GRIMSARGH
A proposed site for 30 dwellings off Preston Road lies just outside the official settlement boundary of Grimsargh - something which the council’s planning officers said weighed against it as they recommended it for refusal.
However, the agent for the application, Debbie Smith, said that the “spiralling debate around the council’s housing land supply position…is not the sole consideration” and called for the application to be decided “on its merits”.
“The [planning] framework does not protect all countryside from development, rather it concentrates on the protection of valued and distinctive landscapes – there is nothing special about the land that forms the application site,” Ms. Smith said.
Committee members had deferred their decision on the application when it came back before them in February and was recommended for refusal by planning officers. They had wanted to go on a site visit, but that was derailed by the pandemic and they were instead shown video footage of the site.
Having seen that, they were largely unconvinced that the plot needed protecting.
Cllr David Borrow described it as a “fairly scrappy piece of land” and noted that development was already taking place on the south side of Preston Road, opposite the proposed site.
Cllr Jennifer Mein said such housebuilding meant she could not tell “where the village ended” when she travelled through the area and expressed “grave misgivings” about refusing a development where 35 percent of the properties would be classed as affordable. Three of the dwellings are also set to be bungalows, targeted at the over 55s.
Unusually for most development proposals in Preston’s villages, this one was also supported by the parish council.
However, planning officer Ben Sandover said that while the scheme appeared to “fill a gap” when viewed from the road, it extended “quite significantly beyond Preston Road within the open countryside”.
Committee member Sue Whittam also warned that it would “set a precedent” for any future development in countryside areas.
The application – from BCA Management Ltd - was approved by a majority.
WHITTINGHAM LANE, BROUGHTON
A plan for 111 properties off Whittingham Lane was the longest-running of the three proposals to be reconsidered by the committee, having first been debated back in January 2019.
It is one of those currently subject to a so-called “holding decision” by the secretary of state, meaning that the original approval of the scheme cannot be implemented – but the council can still rethink and refuse, as it did in February this year.
The applicant, Andy Bradshaw, has now resubmitted his proposal - which includes a pledge for 35 percent of the properties to be within the affordable homes category.
Earlier this year, he expressed outrage at the fact that the initial permission had been reversed, claiming to have spent £130,000 on the application process.
At the latest committee meeting, members were told that the development would lead to the “unplanned expansion of a rural village” and that the vast majority of the site was situated in open countryside.
However, the agent for the application, Helen Leggett, said that refusing the proposal would result in a “landlocked site that offers no contribution to the openness of the countryside”.
She added that a neighbouring development, which is now being built, had been designed at the council’s request to facilitate a “phase 2” project on the land for which permission was now set to be refused.
Cabinet member for planning and committee member Peter Moss said that while the plan conflicted with some aspects of the council’s own policies, there were some “clear benefits” to it.
“I’m very torn,” he said.
However, fellow committee member David Borrow said it was “eminently sensible” to turn down the bid now that the council could show it had enough land set aside for new housing.
The applicant this time also offered to amend the scheme so that housing did not fall within the area covered by the Broughton neighbourhood plan.
However, the proposal was once again rejected by a majority – with Cllr Moss one of two members voting against the refusal.
GARSTANG ROAD, BARTON
A public inquiry into a proposal for 151 new homes off the A6 Garstang Road is due to begin early next year, after developer Wainhomes appealed Preston City Council’s decision to refuse it back in February – less than six months after initially granting permission for the scheme.
However, the housebuilder has resubmitted the plan in the meantime for fresh consideration by the authority.
Committee members were told that the scheme – on a 9.5-hecatre site at Cardwells Farm – offered only “generic” benefits such as the minimum required quota of affordable housing and the inclusion of areas of open space.
Planning officer Robert Major said that these amounted to “no more than would be expected from any major housing development”.
He also added that the need for a promised community building had not been established, while papers presented to the committee revealed that there was a question mark over who would take on responsibility for the facility in any case.
The chair of Barton Parish Council, Roger Hacking, said that villagers had chosen to live in the area because of its “inherent rural nature, easy access to local countryside and the views that this provides” - all of which would be threatened by further development.
Cllr David Borrow said that there were “very strong grounds” for following planning officers’ recommendations to reject the proposal – and the committee unanimously did so.