Bungalow to be built in South Ribble woodland as councillor compares it to 'chewing asbestos'
A bungalow will be built in ancient woodland in South Ribble after councillors concluded that it would be less damaging to the environment than a bigger property that was approved 50 years ago, but never constructed.
South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead to the proposal, which will see the single-storey dwelling spring up in Holland Wood off Chorley Road in Walton-le-Dale.
However, one councillor likened the development to ‘chewing asbestos’ – claiming that it was something that might not have been frowned upon in the 1970s, but should not be countenanced today.
Members had first wrestled with the application back in July when they were brought to a bizarre stalemate which saw them vote neither to approve nor reject it.
At a recent meeting of the committee, they were once again tasked with deciding whether to permit the proposed property, knowing that, if they refused it, the family behind the plan intended to put up the previously-approved building.
Permission for that dwelling – also a bungalow – was granted in 1971 by the now defunct Preston Rural District Council. Half a century later, South Ribble planning committee members were told that it was “unlikely” that development would today be allowed in such a sensitive location – because the woodland is both a designated biological heritage site and lies within the greenbelt.
However, the authority’s planning officers recommended that the latest proposal be approved – on the basis that it was better than the building that could appear if they opposed it.
The agent for the application sought to remove any doubt about what would happen in that scenario, telling the committee that “regardless of the outcome of [the] debate, a house will be built at the…site”.
Gareth Salthouse, from Emery Planning, added: “The key consideration is whether the proposed scheme now before you is a better or worse outcome in overall planning terms.”
Members heard that the newly-proposed property – in an existing clearing – would be less than half the size of the original design and would have a surrounding garden area of two acres compared to around 14 acres under the 1971 plans.
Planning case officer Catherine Lewis said that the authority would have “little control” over the so-called “fallback position” if the 50-year-old permission was implemented – because no conditions had been attached to it at the time.
Under the new application, future “permitted development” rights – allowing some types of extension without further planning permission – would be denied. Other environmental safeguards – including recommendations to protect habitats – would also be put in place.
Ms. Lewis acknowledged that councillors were faced with a “unique” situation, but said that the authority considered the smaller property to be “the best way forward”. She said that there had been no objections from statutory consultees because they “understood” that it was an unusual set of circumstances.
When the committee first considered the application in the summer, members were addressed by a representative of the management company that looks after the gated community of “The Vineyard” – a private road off Chorley Road, via which the proposed dwelling would be accessed. Simon Keely had set out a series of objections and told the committee that he was speaking on behalf of 10 out of the 11 households in the cul-de-sac.
At the latest meeting, a number of objectors had registered to speak, but did not turn up to the meeting. However, Tracey Thomas, whose family would be living in the new property, spoke in an attempt to persuade councillors to permit the idyllic dwelling.
She said that members had not previously been given a “true reflection” of what residents thought of the application, adding: “What I would like to say to neighbours is that the development would not be a monstrosity, but our family home.
“Both my partner and I are committed to…continuing to maintain the open access which is presently enjoyed by many,” Ms. Thomas said.
Committee member Barrie Yates said he could understand why the family wanted to live in such a “marvellous place” – but stressed that present-day council planning policies meant that they should not be allowed to.
Referring to the 1971 application, Cllr Yates said: “In those days, you could chew asbestos – you could saw it up, do whatever you want[ed] with it. Today, it’s been proved that it gives you cancer.
“If we were to allow this to go through, we’re putting a cancer into our…planning rules. We’re setting a fire inside our policies that will burn [them] out – [we would have broken] every policy in the book,” said Cllr Yates, who has sat on the committee for 28 years.
Fellow member Cllr Caroline Moon noted that the 1971 approval was for a property to be built just 11 metres away from the River Darwen, whereas the new application related to an area 37 metres back from the river bank.
She said that the risk of flooding meant that the original development was “arguably not viable” even if the current application were refused – and so it was not a case of the committee being “damned if we do and damned if we don’t”.
However, Catherine Lewis said that a more “engineered solution” would be required to deliver the original design which would “damage the environment in a way that the current scheme wouldn’t”.
Cllr James Flannery said that members should not be “questioning the integrity of the applicant”.
He added: “When you have Tracey and her family come here…and give a heart-warming background into why they want a family home there…it means a lot. Because that’s what we’re all here for – to get the balance [between] the people, plus the legislation and the policy.”
Cllr Will Adams said that the particular circumstances of the case demanded “a level of pragmatism”.
In another knife-edge vote, the committee approved the latest proposal by a majority of one.
As part of the approval, a legal agreement will be entered into to rescind the 1971 permission. While that blueprint was never brought to life, a lawful development certificate was issued by South Ribble Borough Council in 2012 to confirm that a legal start had previously been made on the site – which is why the permission remained active five decades later.