Vehicles began to appear on what used to be the car park of the former shopping and leisure destination back in January.
It later emerged that the lorries belonged to Leyland Trucks and had been parked there, under agreement with the site operator, while they awaited fitting with microchips - the arrival of which had been delayed due to a global shortage of the components.
FI Real Estate Management (FIREM) has now asked for - and been granted - retrospective planning permission for the use of the land for that purpose. Chorley Council’s planning committee gave the green light for the haulage storage operation to continue until June 2025.
Most of the scores of vehicles currently parked on the plot are lorry cabs, minus any trailers. Committee members were told that the lorries were “partially complete” and, although drivable, still needed specialist parts fitting before they could be delivered to purchasers.
A report to the committee stated that Leyland Trucks was - like many companies - experiencing supply chain problems and so was in need of ongoing secure storage facilities, so as not to hold up production.
Without it, councillors were told, there was a risk that the Farington-based company “may have had to halt manufacturing, with more serious consequences to its business and the safeguarding of jobs”.
FIREM was said to have “jumped to assist” the 125-year-old firm at short notice.
The Botany Bay site is subject to a yet-to-be-determined planning application to create new commercial units, which will include space for “light industry”.
A previous plan to turn the former mill into a retail outlet village was ditched in November 2020 due to what FIREM said at the time was the “continued decline in the retail sector... further compounded by the coronavirus situation”.
That move came almost two years after the last incarnation of Botany Bay - as a shopping hub filled with independent retailers - closed in February 2019. .
Councillors were told that it was the FIREM’s intention to bring forward the business park plans for the site “in the short term” - and also that the company and Leyland Trucks expected the supply chain problems necessitating the lorry park to “diminish through 2022/23". Nevertheless, a three-year temporary permission for vehicle storage was sought.
Substitute committee member, Cllr Adrian Lowe, said that he had no issue with the short-term use of the site for that purpose, but added that the “cynical part” of him made him question the long-term future of the land.
“If anything of the previous planning history of the entire site is to be believed, don’t hold your breath that if we grant permission [for the business park] that [it] will be forthcoming. Because we [gave] them permission for a shopping village - that disappeared - and now this one comes forward,” Cllr Lowe said.
Fellow committee member - and cabinet member for planning - Cllr Alistair Morwood said he hoped that the council would not be “held to ransom, in that if we don't pass the [business park] development, this lorry park will continue for years and years”.
The meeting heard that the authority could take enforcement action if any vehicles remained after three years and an application for a time extension had not been submitted and approved.
In a statement after the committee granted permission for the lorry storage, a spokesperson for FI Real Estate Management told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We remain committed to the wider development of Botany Bay to create over 400,000 sq ft of industrial and commercial space.
“Our current focus is on working with stakeholders and the planning authority to ensure our development plans serve and complement the local area and Lancashire economy.
“In the interim, we are pleased to be providing essential storage space to Leyland DAF, for which we have received temporary planning permission. As our plans progress over the course of the coming months and years, we will continue to work with Leyland DAF to help them to mitigate their supply chain challenges while keeping our development plans on course.”
Meanwhile, Brennan Gourdie, managing director at Leyland Trucks, said: “We are using the space as a secured compound for the temporary storage of completed vehicles that are awaiting final delivery to customers.”
Three objections were lodged to the application for the lorry park, which included concerns about the “unsightly appearance” of the vehicles.
However, Chorley Council planning officials recommended approval of the application, with case officer Iain Crossland telling the committee that “although the stored vehicles are visible from a distance, the visual impact is not significantly greater than the parking of vehicles that took place previously while the site was in retail use”.
Under the business park plans, the original mill building will be retained.