Delay to Ulnes Walton 'super prison' appeal, as campaigners vow to fight on
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The additional hearings had been due to take place last week after the government intervened and said that it was minded to grant planning permission for the 1,715-inmate jail - if concerns over the impact of the development on the roads in the area could be overcome.
However, the planning inspector who oversaw the earlier stages of the inquiry became unavailable for personal reasons in the weeks before it was due to recommence. The Planning Inspectorate said that given what it described as the “history” of the matter, it believed that it was “important that the case remains with the [same] inspector”.
The parties involved have now been invited to identify and agree a new five-day period during which the reopened inquiry can be heard.
A campaign group fighting to block the plans for the prison - on land close to the existing Garth and Wymott lock-ups in Ulnes Walton - says that it is ready to present fresh evidence it has amassed about highway safety when the event does restart.
The blueprint for the so-called “super prison” was thrown out by Chorley Council’s planning committee in December 2021, but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) later launched an appeal against the local authority’s decision, sparking a public inquiry last summer.
Had the usual process taken its course, the independent planning inspector who chaired the proceedings - Tom Gilbert-Wooldridge - would have decided whether to uphold or overturn the local authority’s decision based on the evidence placed before him.
However, as the Lancashire Post revealed before the inquiry began, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove stepped in to officially “recover” the appeal – meaning that he or one of his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) would make the final decision, having merely considered Mr. Gilbert-Wooldridge’s assessment of the proposal.
It emerged back in January that that assessment was not favourable - and the inspector had agreed with Chorley Council, concluding that the appeal should be dismissed over the damage it would cause to its proposed greenbelt location, as well as the negative impact on the local road network.
However, the DLUHC announced that it was nevertheless inclined to grant permission - provided the highways issues could be “satisfactorily addressed”. To that end, it instructed that the inquiry be reopened to hear evidence purely relating to that subject.
Since then, the Ulnes Walton Acton Group (UWAG) has been gathering evidence that it believes will bolster its case - including on the usage of the roads near the prison site by cyclists and horse riders.
UWAG’s Emma Curtis told the Post that the group was “disappointed” at the postponement of the additional stage of the inquiry, but added that it was “important to retain the same planning inspector, who has full knowledge of the site and the issues which are of such concern to the local residents and the wider community and villages”.
She added: “We have assembled further evidence, much of which has been provided by local people, on the highway safety issues which will be the sole focus of concern once the inquiry reopens.
“Along with our legal team and transport consultant, we remain fully committed and focused on continuing the fight against this inappropriate development in the greenbelt.”
If it is ultimately approved, the new category C jail would combine with the neighbouring Garth and Wymott facilities to create a prison population that would outstrip the number of residents living in the locality.