Public trust in planning system damaged by 'inconsistent decisions', Chorley leader says

The leader of Chorley Council says that inconsistencies in the planning system risk undermining public trust in how it operates.

Sunday, 4th July 2021, 9:30 pm

Alistair Bradley was speaking after the outcome of a planning appeal in neighbouring South Ribble, which could have implications for how many homes have to be built in Chorley.

That decision - to uphold South Borough Council's refusal of permission for 100 new properties in Whitestake - saw the planning inspector who heard the case conclude that the authority should be using the so-called "standard method" of calculating its minimum annual new housing need.

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Land off Town Lane in Whittle-le-Woods, where a developer wants to build 250 homes (image: Google)

Disputes between developers and Central Lancashire's three local authorities - Chorley, South Ribble and Preston - over the two different ways of determining that figure have been at the centre of a series of recent planning appeals across the patch. Each of the councils ends up with very different housebuilding targets depending on which methodology is deemed to be the right one and whether the trio are permitted to redistribute the resultant Central Lancashire-wide tally between them - positions which are usually settled only until the next appeal comes along.

Under the non-redistributed standard method approved by the planning inspector at the Whitestake inquiry, Chorley would see would see the number of homes the borough is expected to build more than double to 569 compared to the volume required under an updated agreement struck with Preston and South Ribble just over 12 months to pool and share out the 1,010 homes the sub-region was deemed to need to deliver by that methodology.

Chorley Council previously found itself in the same position following the overturning last year of its own refusal of permission for 180 homes off Pear Tree Lane in Euxton. The planning inspector in that case said not only that the standard method should be used – but that it should not be redistributed as it would otherwise have been under last year's so-called "memorandum of understanding" between the three neighbouring councils.

That arrangement was designed to recognise both the greater need for new homes in Preston and South Ribble because of their participation in the City Deal to boost housing and jobs - and the constraints on development in Chorley of its extensive greenbelt. It would have seen the latter having to build only 278 homes per year, with South Ribble 328 and Preston 404.

However, the Pear Tree Lane inspector concluded that the agreement had not been through a sufficiently robust process to justify its use in advance of a new joint local plan to be adopted by the three districts in December 2023. The arrangement subsequently collapsed when Preston withdrew from it late last year in the wake of the Pear Tree Lane decision, leading to its own minimum housing target falling to 250, while Chorley's rocketed.

But the complexities of Central Lancashire's planning arrangements meant that Chorley's desire to build fewer homes than the 569 demanded under the standard method was briefly - if not a little ironically - given a boost in February of this year when Preston lost an appeal against its refusal of permission for over 150 homes in the village of Barton. The planning inspector who heard that case concluded that Preston should be basing its housing need calculation on a Central Lancashire-wide agreement dating back to 2012 known as the "core strategy".

Under that scenario, Chorley's target would officially drop to 417 and - according to the authority - would in reality fall much further to just 144, because of its history of over-delivering against its core strategy figure in recent years. Chorley Council used that rationale as the basis to refuse six applications for more than 500 homes on so-called "safeguarded land", which is intended to be protected from development for the foreseeable future. Two of those applications are themselves the subject of appeals by the developers behind them.

However, the Whitestake inspector's findings potentially change the picture for Chorley yet again and could see it held to the higher 569 target. Council leader Alistair Bradley said that the authority was considering the implications of that inquiry putting the non-redistributed standard method of housing calculation back in play.

He said the district was committed to a “plan-led system that will fairly distribute development across Central Lancashire”.

However, he added: “It appears to me personally, as an ordinary person, that we are seeing different decisions from different planning inspectors at different times – and there is a danger that this inconsistency may be undermining the public’s trust in the planning system, which is not helpful.”

Speaking during a Lancashire Post local election debate in April, Cllr Bradley suggested that the three Central Lancashire authorities could come to a reasonable and sensible agreement on new housing numbers if only they were given the opportunity.

"What’s nonsensical is government targets being applied in different ways by different inspectors in a game of Russian Roulette with developers as to which way the result goes. If we are allowed to get on and discuss [targets with Preston and South Ribble] and come up with a plan, [then we do] – the problem is a planning inspector rides in from London and decides arbitrarily to carve it all up in a different manner,” Cllr Bradley said.