Government won't intervene over controversial Preston village housebuilding plans

The government has declined to give itself the final say over controversial proposals to build over 550 homes around the Preston village of Goosnargh.

Monday, 24th May 2021, 2:02 pm
Updated Monday, 24th May 2021, 2:04 pm

Applications for a total of six estates in the open countryside were rejected by Preston City Council last year, because they were in locations not earmarked for development by the authority. A seventh site – for 45 properties near Longridge – was also refused.

The housebuilders behind the plans appealed against the decisions, leading to a three-week joint public inquiry into the matter last month. The hearing reconvened for closing submissions last week.

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Goosnargh has been bedecked with signs opposing "overdevelopment"

Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace had requested that the local government secretary Robert Jenrick take the step of “recovering” the appeal decisions – meaning that he would ultimately determine whether or not permission for the developments was granted, informed by the conclusion of the planning inspector hearing the case.

However, Mr. Jenrick has said that he could only intervene where housing proposals “raised issues of significance beyond the local area”.

In a letter to the MP, he added: “Having thought carefully about this, I do not believe the appeals meet these tests and I have come to the view that they should be determined by an inspector who will take full account of…the evidence put forward at the inquiry, both in support and against the proposals, in coming to his decision.”

Ben Wallace said that he was “obviously disappointed” that the Secretary of State did not share his opinion that the “the specific circumstances in Goosnargh have broader, national significance”.

Bushells Farm off Mill Lane in Goosnargh is one of the largest proposed sites for development, with the refusal of permission for 140 homes now being appealed (image: Neil Cross)

“I hope the inspector determining the appeals will look favourably on the steps Preston City Council has taken to ensure its housing targets reflect local need and dismiss all these appeals.

“It is clear to me that the proposed developments are completely inappropriate for Goosnargh, are contrary to the local plan and to national planning policy,” Mr. Wallace added.

Preston city councillor Peter Moss – responding to the government decision shortly before leaving his role as cabinet member for planning at the authority last week – said: “We are passionate about our city and while we recognise the need for additional housing, we are committed to fighting to ensure that communities maintain a say in how the city is developed and that the city council is not forced to accept unsuitable planning applications.”

Separately, the authority is mounting a legal challenge to another planning inspector’s decision to overturn its refusal of permission to build more than 150 homes at Cardwell Farm off the A6 in Barton.

More than 120 homes would be built across two sections of Swainson Farm on Goosnargh Lane if the appeal of the developer behind the scheme is successful (image: Neil Cross)

The Goosnargh appeals will be decided on similar issues – chief amongst them, the way in which Preston’s minimum annual housebuilding target should be calculated. That in turn will determine whether Preston can demonstrate that it has allocated five years’ worth of land to meet that need, as required by government policy.

In the closing submissions at the reconvened hearing, legal counsel for the developers pointed to what they described as “a deficit” of 117 homes that Preston would be required to deliver between October 2025 and March 2026 in order to meet the 7,799 target across the period of its current local plan, running from 2014.

That figure includes an historic under-delivery of 1,715 properties, emanating from the financial crash of 2008, that was originally erroneously presented at the inquiry as totalling 1,217 dwellings – and which had initially allowed the council to claim a surplus by the end of the plan period.

Paul Tucker QC, representing all of appellants on the issue of housing land supply, rejected the suggestion that the authority could rely on the delivery, within the next five years, of the first 200 homes on the 1,100-strong Bartle Garden Village development approved earlier this year as a guarantee of being able to bridge the gap.

He added: “It is inescapable that there is an immediate need to release more housing to meet the deficit in the five-year housing land supply and thereby help meet the shortfall in the provision of housing to the end of the plan period.

“As to the latter, it is ironic that allowing these appeals would actually put the council in broadly the supply position that it apparently thought it was in when it opened the inquiry – a supply which was said to be a healthy one enabling the council to meet its needs.”

However, Martin Carter, acting on behalf of the city council, accused the developers of coming to a “cosy consensus” and failing to acknowledge that only a proportion of the total 557 homes being proposed would be required to fulfil the outstanding 117 requirement – and, even then, only if it had not been met by other means.

He said that the appellants had “no evidence” to suggest that the Bartle homes would not be brought forward on the timescale outlined by that site’s developer and that, in any event, it would be “reasonable to assume the residual requirement will be met in a couple of months [of] September 2025, given [existing permissions] and strong delivery”.

“In the last four-and-a-half years, there has been…over-provision. Between April 2017 [and] October 2020, annual [housing] delivery was 725 dwellings per annum, with a Housing Delivery Test [score] of 339 percent – this puts Preston City Council in eighth position when compared to all councils,” Mr. Carter said.

The Housing Delivery Test measures the proportion of homes being delivered by local authorities against their targets.

“This is a local planning authority which is boosting significantly the supply of new housing and has been for the last five years,” Mr. Carter told the hearing.

More broadly, he said that the arguments being raised by the developers would, if accepted by the inspector, “set a very adverse precedent for decision-making in Preston”.

“It will permit a significant scale of development at the least sustainable locations in the area, outside villages at the bottom of the settlement hierarchy. This is the antithesis of the plan-led system and must be rejected.”

The planning inspector hearing the case, George Baird, last month visited all of the locations that are the subject of the inquiry and will publish his findings in due course.

WOULD HUNDREDS OF NEW HOMES RUIN THE VILLAGE?

Legal representatives for the city council and the developers also locked horns over the “cumulative impact” that the six applications surrounding Goosnargh would have on the countryside character of the village.

In the closing submissions at the inquiry, Gary Grant, dealing with that aspect of the case on behalf of all of the developers, said that the authority had provided no evidence that Goosnargh would lose its village status or rural nature if the proposed estates were built.

“It will have a higher population and more households, but will still be a rural village and the proposals can be sympathetically designed to ensure that [relevant concerns] are addressed.

“It will not be a small village, but it is not properly to be assessed as a small village,” said Mr. Grant, adding that the council’s reference to “organic growth” for Goosnargh is “opaque”.

However, Martin Carter, wrapping up the authority’s case, said that his counterparts for the housebuilders had “fundamentally misunderstood” the local plan policy with which the council had concluded the applications were cumulatively in conflict.

He said that they were wrong to characterise it as a “landscape and visual impact” document in need of assessing on that basis – and rather that it was a spatial policy designed to minimise development in the least sustainable locations.

Mr. Carter also took issue with the suggestion by the appellants that Goosnargh had shifted from being a rural village to a “commuter satellite” since its place in the hierarchy of Preston’s potential development sites was set in 2012.

“The two terms are not mutually exclusive. In any event, given…that there has been no change in travel pattern, the claimed change is illusory not real,” he said.

The hearing was told that as far back as 2005, over 75 percent of residents worked outside the village.

“The bus services were not sufficiently frequent or timely to meet the needs of the working population – most households were therefore dependant on private cars.

“The level of services and facilities has not improved since 2005. If anything, there [has] been a contraction in rural services in Goosnargh,” Mr. Carter said.

GOOSNARGH’S APPEALING SITES FOR DEVELOPMENT

These are the seven plots where developers want permision to build:

Bushells Farm, Mill Lane, Goosnargh – 140 homes (applicant: Gerald Gornall and Community Gateway Association)

Land north east of Swainson Farm, Goosnargh Lane – 87 homes (applicant: Michael Wells)

Land at Swainson Farm, Goosnargh Lane – 40 homes (applicant: Michael Wells)

Land north of Whittingham Lane – 145 homes (applicant: Gladman Developments Ltd.)

Land south of Whittingham Lane – 80 homes (applicant: Setantii Holdings Ltd.)

Land around 826 Whittingham Lane – 65 homes (applicant:Setantii Holdings Ltd.)

Old Rib Farm, Longridge – 45 homes (applicant: Community Gateway Association)