"There is nothing here": Charnock Richard residents blast housebuilding plans for village with few services - but plenty of traffic problems

Exasperated Charnock Richard residents have been left in limbo after a decision over controversial plans for a major new housing estate in their village was deferred for the second time in as many months.

Thursday, 2nd June 2022, 3:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd June 2022, 3:24 pm

The proposal - for a 76-dwelling development of affordable homes on land off Charter Lane - was presented to Chorley Council’s planning committee at the end of March, with locals warning that the area was bereft of services and already beset with parking problems.

It was recommended for approval by the authority’s planning officers, but members of the cross-party committee instead voted to take a trip to the site to see for themselves some of the issues raised by villagers opposed to the scheme.

While that delay was welcomed by residents - in the hope that councillors would concur with them over their concerns - they say they were perplexed by a further unexpected hold-up after the application was suddenly dropped from the agenda of the latest meeting at which it was due to be decided.

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Members of the Charnock Richard Residents' Association want to block plans to build 76 homes on a plot of land off Charter Lane

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Armed with what they had witnessed during their site visit, committee members had been poised to seal the fate of the proposal one way or the other - but, as the gathering got under way, committee chair Cllr June Molyneaux said that the matter had been postponed for “technical reasons”.

The Lancashire Post has since been told that the last-minute abandonment came after the firm behind the housebuilding bid - Bamber Bridge-based Conlon Holdings Limited - submitted highway-related information shortly before the meeting began, leaving the council insufficient time to assess it.

Further details have now been published on the authority’s planning website, showing that the company had sought to provide clarification over the timing of a week-long traffic speed survey undertaken last July as part of its application.

Locals say that there is already traffic chaos at school pick-up and drop-off times, like that pictured here on Church Lane last month (image: Charnock Richard Residents' Association)

Conlon had originally claimed that the assessment had been undertaken while the nearby Charnock Richard Church of England Primary School was open, but has now acknowledged that pupils at the Church Lane school had broken up for the summer holidays - because inset days had brought the closing date earlier than previously planned.

However, the agent for the application - Maybern Planning and Development - asserts in a letter to council planners that the absence of school traffic during such surveys actually tends to lead to the recording of higher speeds than would be the case during term-time, due to traffic being more free-flowing. They describe the speed assessment as “robust and completely appropriate” as a result.

The firm also stresses that a separate traffic flow survey - which determines the volume of traffic travelling along local routes - was carried out when the school was open, as is usually required by council highways authorities so that the data is representative of the number of vehicles already using the roads before any proposed new properties are built.

That assessment dates back to 2016 when it was conducted on behalf of a different housebuilder which wanted to develop the site. Maybern says that appropriate “growth factors” have been applied to the six-year-old results and notes that highways officials at Lancashire County Council are content for it to be relied upon .

The firm behind the affordable housing plans for land off Charter Lane says that they will meet an "identified need" for such properties in Chorley borough

Villagers, however, are not so sanguine about the ability of Charter Lane itself - and Church Lane and Chorley Lane at either end of it - to cope with the increase in traffic which they say would be generated by the new estate.

“You might think these are quiet country lanes, but - especially at school pick-up time - [they] are already horrendous,” Colette Jolly, from the Charnock Richard Residents’ Association, told the Post.

“These are small, narrow village lanes, serving childcare settings, which effectively operate as single-track lanes due to the parked cars. Adding another 150 vehicles will significantly increase the risk of serious injury, if not worse.

“The visibility lines at either end of Charter Lane are shocking - it is really difficult to see when you’re pulling out onto either Church Lane or Chorley Lane. Plus, if one car is coming out and there is [another] car parked, you can't get a car in at the same time.

Existing Charnock Richard residents say that the scale of the proposed new estate would not be appropriate for the village

“On Church Lane, there are double yellows at the junction, but people park on the opposite side of the road there, so it's still like a single-track lane.

“[Charnock Richard FC] has also been doing amazingly well, so on match days and training days it is busy - and they often have events on during the week of an evening as well. So there are always cars going up and down and vehicles parked along the road,” Colette added.

Lancashire County Council has offered no objection to the proposals as they stand - having previously agreed a suite of “mitigation measures” with the applicant to address their initial concerns.

These include traffic-calming features on the Church Lane and Chorley Lane approaches to Charter Lane, the creation of a new two-metre-wide footway on the west side of Charter Lane for its full length and the relocation of a bus stop.

The traffic assessment accompanying the application concludes that, by 2026, there would be “ample spare capacity” on the roads surrounding the completed development.

As part of its proposal, Conlon has also committed to a £45,000-per-year contribution to improving bus services, which would be payable for five years.

There are concerns over the sightlines for traffic at the junction of Charter Lane and Church Lane

However, Colette Jolly said that such a gesture would still be inadequate in an area which is so devoid of services.

“From a social point of view, a development in the middle of a small village with no shops, doctors and no public transport is not sustainable.

“There is nothing here - the [council planning officer report] refers to there being a village shop, but It’s a pantry, with limited opening hours.

“It’s not your Spar, it’s not a convenience store. So if you run out of something at teatime - say, if you realise you need a loaf of bread or a pint of milk - then you have to go to Tesco Extra in Chorley or the Co-op in Coppull.

“You need a car to live here - and promoting travel by car is contrary to local [council] policy. I acknowledge that there is a contribution to public transport for five years, but the service will stop at 8pm and it's only one bus an hour - it's not really an alternative to a private vehicle,” Colette said.

Almost 200 objections have been lodged to the plans - although some are from the same people raising different issues on each occasion. Charnock Richard Parish Council has also objected to the proposal on the basis that it does not represent the kind of small-scale development” which could be permitted on the plot under Chorley’s local plan.

A previous application for 90 homes - later reduced to 60 - on a wider site, which includes the area now proposed for development by Conlon, was refused for that reason back in 2017.

However, a deluge of recent appeal decisions by government planning inspectors have ruled that Chorley Council cannot demonstrate that it has five years’ worth of land set aside to meet its minimum annual new housing needs.

That leaves the authority exposed to a national planning rule which means that it is now expected to approve most applications for development unless the adverse impacts of doing so would “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits” - which is why the Charter Lane blueprint has now been backed by the council's planning officers.

However, while Colette Jolly accepts that the land is likely to be developed at some stage, she insists that the current plans would be out of keeping with the area.

“In the actual settlement of Charnock Richard, you’ve got about 400 houses, so this proposal would increase it by 20 percent - which is not the right scale for the village,” she said.

At the March planning committee meeting, Sarah Jones, associate director at Maybern Planning and Development , said that the affordable housing scheme would “meet a significant identified need for such housing in the borough”.

She added: “[It] will provide bungalows for the elderly or less mobile residents, one-bed apartments for smaller families and also two, three and four-bed family homes – thus addressing a range of family needs.”

The Post approached Conlon Holdings Limited for comment on the latest developments with its application, but nobody was available to respond.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Post understands that the application will be brought back before councillors on Chorley’s planning committee at its next meeting on 14th June.

In a statement, Cllr Alistair Morwood, cabinet member for planning and development at Chorley Council, said of the delayed decision: “The applicant provided very late information immediately prior to the meeting which related to highways and therefore needed to be assessed by both our officers and those of Lancashire County Council.

“The application could not have been considered by the planning committee on the night without this information being properly assessed and we can only apologise to those whose time was wasted but the situation was beyond our control.

“The new information is currently being considered and the scheme will be brought back to a future planning committee.”

Villagers claim that parking is at a premium in the Charter Lane area more often than not (image: Charnock Richard Residents' Association)