Alistair Bradley was reacting to the ruling of a planning inspector who found that the council was wrong to refuse permission for the proposed development on a plot close to Blainscough Hall off Blainscough Lane. He said that the borough had built its “fair share” of housing in recent years, but was now being penalised for doing so by national planning polices which made ever-increasing demands for it to deliver more.
It is the latest blow to Chorley Council’s attempts to end what Cllr Bradley has previously described as a “Wild West” scenario which has seen multiple attempts by housebuilders to swoop on land in the district that is not currently earmarked for development.
The bid to build on the Blainscough Lane site was brought by Blackburn-based Lea Hough And Co LLP last April. It attracted opposition from dozens of locals - including over the pressure that a total of 123 new properties could place on what it was claimed were already dangerously busy junctions in the area.
The proposal was one of six controversial applications for more than 500 homes which were rejected in actual or indicative decisions by Chorley Council’s planning committee. All of the plans would have seen housing spring up on so-called “safeguarded land”, which is likely to be released for development at some point in the future - but is supposed to be preserved at least for the duration of the authority’s current local plan.
That document expires in 2026, but Chorley and its neighbouring Central Lancashire authorities in Preston and South Ribble are currently preparing the first joint local plan covering all three districts, which is due to be in place by the end of next year and will determine where new homes should be built and in what quantities.
The trio have co-operated over housing numbers across their collective patch for a decade, with the aim of ensuring that it is appropriately distributed according to the needs of each area and their capacity to accommodate new estates.
However, recent years have seen the arrangements become bogged down by a series of appeals by housebuilders against decisions to refuse individual developments, the outcomes of which have often been based on differing interpretations of how housing figures should be calculated in each of the three districts.
The decisions - taken by independent planning inspectors - have regularly had a ripple effect across the wider patch. The increasingly circular situation has meant that when Preston and South Ribble are told they can build fewer homes, Chorley is ordered to increase its share of development.
Cllr Bradley said that the latest ruling “leaves us with a mess where the locally-accountable democratic process is at the mercy of a government-appointed planning inspector [who] doesn’t know the local area”.
“This is extremely concerning for any future appeal decisions that may affect us in Chorley and means we would incur massive costs if we want to challenge any of them,” he added.
The deluge of proposed safeguarded land developments in Chorley that were refused last spring concerned came in the wake of a previous planning inspectorate ruling in 2020 which granted permission for 180 homes off Pear Tree lane in Euxton - again, overturning an initial council decision in the process.
In reaching his conclusion, the planning inspector in that case pulled the rug from a revised agreement between the three local authority neighbours - which had been reached just months earlier - setting out how they would pool and redistribute their minimum targets.
That would have seen Chorley obliged to deliver 282 homes per year - just 27 percent of the Central Lancashire total - with Preston and South Ribble taking 40 percent and 33 percent respectively. The split was designed to reflect the fact that Chorley has the most greenbelt in the sub-region and also that Preston and South Ribble are part of the City Deal - the aim of which is to increase housing delivery.
The inspector concluded that the so-called “memorandum of understanding” - an update to a similar agreement signed in 2017 - could only be afforded “limited weight” in planning decisions because it had not yet been tested as part of the public examination that will have to be undertaken as part of the formation of the forthcoming joint local plan.
In the absence of a local arrangement, Chorley was then faced with the prospect of its minimum housing requirement being calculated by what is known as the “standard method” introduced by the government in 2018. Without any deal to redistribute the resultant figures, Chorley’s tally rocketed to 569 properties - now slightly reduced under the most up-to-date calculation to 539, but still more than double the number of dwellings that need to be delivered by Preston and South Ribble under the same system.
In a double whammy for Chorley, it also left the borough unable to show that it had five years’ worth of land and planning permissions in place to meet its newly-inflated housing needs. That meant that it would be obliged to grant approvals for development of the kind of safeguarded plots that subsequently started to attract interest from housebuilders.
However, Chorley Council argued at the Blainscough Lane inquiry that it had over-supplied on its housing targets since its current local plan came into force in 2010 - not least because of the 1,900 homes built since then within the part of Buckshaw Village that sits within Chorley’s borders.
The authority contended that the collapse of the most recent memorandum of understanding with Preston and South Ribble meant that the three should now revert to their “core strategy” agreement dating back to 2012, which saw Chorley and South Ribble each required to deliver 417 homes per year and Preston 507.
But Chorley said that as 6,316 properties had been built in the borough since 2010, it only had 518 dwellings left to deliver in order to meet the minimum required over the remaining period of the current local plan - and claimed that, rather than rising, its annual total should actually be slashed to no more than 109 new homes per year through until 2026.
On that basis, the district would comfortably be able to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land and would no longer be expected to permit development on land which is currently safeguarded - including Blainscough Lane.
However, planning inspector Helen Hockenhull said she did not accept the logic of the council’s position - which she suggested was at odds with the government's aim to significantly increase the supply of housing, irrespective of past performance by individual areas.
“The difficulty with this methodology is that it results in the plan requirement becoming a target. However, it is not - it is the minimum figure needed to meet the housing needs of the borough,” Ms. Hockenhull wrote in her decision notice.
She said that while the minimum housing requirement over the course of Chorley’s local plan could be considered in itself to represent a “significant boost to housing supply…an over-delivery would achieve this to a greater extent”.
She added that the proposed estate would also make a contribution to an “acute shortfall” of affordable homes in the borough, with the applicant proposing that 30 percent of its properties on the Blainscough Lane development would fall into that category.
The inspector agreed with Chorley Council’s own position that the core strategy was now out of date a decade after it was drawn up - but said that it was” contradictory” for the authority to suggest that it should continue to be used until the Central Lancashire-wide local plan is completed.
Ms. Hockenhull concluded that the introduction of the “standard method” in 2018 represented the kind of significant change in circumstances that merited Central Lancashire authorities moving away from their 2017 memorandum of understanding - because of its effect on how many each would be expected to deliver.
Under the standard method and the need to build at least 539 homes a year, Chorley can show only a two-and-a-half year supply of housing land - and so the inspector allowed the appeal and granted permission for the proposed Blainscough Lane estate to go ahead.
Cllr Bradley - who has previously requested that ministers intervene over housing appeals in the borough until the new local plan is in force - said that in the wake of the government’s recent ‘levelling-up’ plans, “the only levelling in the North seems to be our beautiful countryside that is at the mercy of developers”.
He added: “It’s well-documented that here in Chorley we have done our fair share of housebuilding and it is clear the methodology being used by government to determine future housebuilding is penalising those areas that have done what the government has asked – it’s absolutely perverse.
“If you read the inspector’s report it contradicts itself – on the one hand, it says our criticisms are of the methodology and it is not the inspector’s remit to challenge the methodology – but on the other hand, the inspector says [that in] situations like this where policy isn’t clear, it is for the inspector to use their judgement.
“With the support of our MP, Lindsay Hoyle, we’ve taken the matter up with [the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary] Michael Gove and asked for some understanding of our situation. We’ve built more houses than all our neighbouring authorities and, whilst their targets are being lowered, we’ve seen an already high target rocket even further – it’s plain to see for everyone that’s just not fair.
“There is a precedent for this – in Oxfordshire they have been granted some flexibility due to [their] circumstances, but all of a sudden, we’re told that’s not available any more – it’s one rule for those down south and seemingly another for us up here in the North.
“We’re at the point now where there doesn’t seem any point in developing a local plan - we may as well save our money and just let planning inspectors determine all these applications.
“The inspector said that 123 homes was nothing in the grand scheme of things [and] so wouldn’t affect any future plans, but you tell that to the residents in Coppull - those parents struggling to get children into schools and residents stuck in traffic jams because the creaking transport system can’t cope.
“These decisions should be left to the local people that know the area best and allow us to get on with updating the local plan and stop pre-empting when and where development should take place in our borough.
“I’m sure our residents will agree this is a completely crazy situation where the government seems hell bent on closing every opportunity for local people to take local decisions on planning matters,” Cllr Bradley said.
Lea Hough And Co will have to provide a £415,000 contribution - requested by Lancashire County Council - towards the creation of 18 secondary school places to meet the demand that will be generated by the new estate, after the inspector dismissed a claim by the firm that there was no basis for it being asked to do so.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service approached the company for comment on its success in the overall appeal.
Meanwhile, Chorley Council is awaiting the outcome of two other appeals against refusals of permission to develop safeguarded land in the borough. The proposals - both by Redrow Homes - are for 250 dwellings off Town Lane in Whittle-le-Woods and 80 homes on Tincklers Lane in Eccleston
The authority’s planning committee indicated at the same time that it rejected the Blainscough Lane bid that it would also have refused the Redrow applications, had the company not already lodged an appeal against the council’s failure to come to a decision within the required 13-week target period.
ROUNDABOUT 'CANNOT BE MADE SAFE'
The Blainscough Lane estate will be accessed from two points on Grange Drive.
Lancashire County Council highways bosses concluded that the roundabout junctions at Preston Road and Spendmore Lane and Spendmore Lane and Grange Drive have the capacity to cope with the additional traffic that will emanate from the new development - and that no "mitigation measures" are necessary.
However, the planning inquiry heard that residents had particular concerns about the latter junction - a mini-roundabout - because of poor visibility and a propensity for drivers on the main route to exceed the 30mph speed limit.
Planning inspector Helen Hockenhull said that having visited the area to see the problems for herself, she was satisfied that motorists emerging from Grange Drive would be able to do so “safely” - although they “needed to take care”.
But Coppull ward representative Steve Holgate said that locals and councillors felt “devastated and betrayed” by the fact that permission had been granted.
“It's already a bad junction - and now there will be another 123 households using that roundabout.
“I don't see how you can make it safe,” Cllr Holgate said.
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