Final chance for residents to have their say on the future look of Preston, South Ribble and Chorley
Residents across Central Lancashire are being urged to have their say on how the region develops over the next 15 years.
Preston, South Ribble and Chorley councils have entered the final fortnight of a major public consultation into the creation of a joint local plan between the three authorities.
The trio have shared a planning strategy for almost a decade, but this is the first time they will produce a single document that will help determine where new housing and commercial developments are built.
The public are being asked for their views on over 700 suggestions of areas suitable for construction – many of which partially overlap or are duplicated. Submissions were able to be made by anybody, irrespective of whether they own the land in question.
A third so-called ‘call for sites’ is now under way, during which more potential locations are being sought.
But planners in charge of the process are stressing that the plots that have been put forward are not planning applications – and will not necessarily ever be earmarked for development.
It comes after the Lancashire Post learned that rumours were spreading in some communities that the inclusion of a site in the consultation meant that a decision to build on it was already a done deal.
One resident, who lives in South Avenue, New Longton, said: “The first we knew about it was when someone sent us an email showing how the entire field at the bottom of our cul-de-sac was going to be re-developed.
“It started a bit of a panic amongst all the neighbours as this kind of development would be totally inappropriate in this village. It would mean we lose a huge amount of green space and would alter the environment completely.
“Access would also be a major issue – how would all those people get to their homes?
“But the bottom line is that people who choose to live in a cul-de-sac in a village, surrounded by fields, don’t expect to have a massive housing estate on their doorstep.”
While that resident has since been reassured about the nature of the consultation process, she says she and her neighbours remain worried about the future shape of the area they call home.
It is for that reason that Preston’s cabinet member for planning is calling for people to get involved.
“It’s their plan – it’s how they can influence the future of their area and so it’s vital that they’re involved,” Cllr Peter Moss said.
“The councils put it together, but ultimately it’s a plan for the people of Central Lancashire.”
Almost 40 drop-in information sessions have been held across the region to encourage locals to make their views known – with the final events being held in the coming days.
Local plan co-ordinator Carolyn Williams said that officers have had to overcome some cynicism about whether residents can really make a difference to the way the region develops.
“There has been some concern that there is no point in making comments – but there really is,” she explained.
“That local knowledge is just what we need – we’ll do desk-based work and then go out and visit areas, but people’s comments really help us to understand [the issues].”
When the local plan is completed, it will be a key document in determining planning applications across the three council areas. Sites which are not allocated in the plan are unlikely to get the green light for development – provided a local authority can demonstrate that it has set aside sufficient land to meet housebuilding targets.
It is not currently expected that there will be any need to review the greenbelt boundaries in Central Lancashire as part of the local plan. The surface areas of both Chorley and South Ribble are more than two thirds greenbelt.
Development in those protected areas can only take place if an applicant has shown that there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ why it should be permitted. However, not all green fields necessarily fall within the greenbelt.
Meanwhile, it emerged this week that the already lengthy local plan process has now been extended by another 18 months and will not now be completed until December 2023 – with several stages of work still to go, including a further consultation on a list of 'preferred options' and a public assessment by a planning inspector.
But Chris Blackburn, Preston City Council’s planning policy team leader, says it would be unwise to cut corners.
“When you’re starting out with a local plan – especially a joint one – it’s very difficult to give an accurate indication of when it will come together. Things crop up – there might be a piece of evidence that we need before we can move on to a later stage.
“If you want to rush a local plan, you can do – but you’ll get to the end point and sit in front of a planning inspector who will say, ‘No – go back and start again, because you should have done this, that and the other’,” Mr. Blackburn said.
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley added: “There is no point rushing for the sake of 18 months something you could regret for the next 15 years.”
‘I HATE IT – I’D MOVE TOMORROW’
When the Lancashire Post dropped in to a consultation event at Preston Grasshoppers, we found several locals keen to make their voices heard about future development in the area – because they were so dissatisfied with how it has been done in the recent past.
The session happened to be taking place at the epicentre of the explosion in new housing in North West Preston. The area is expected to see around 5,500 new homes built in the two decades up to the mid-2030s.
Latest figures show that more than 1,200 properties have already been completed, with planning permission for 3,300.
For Lightfoot Lane resident Rosie Bond, the statistics do not fully capture the reality of living amidst development at that level.
“If I could sell, I’d sell tomorrow – but I can’t because of all these properties that have been put up.
“I absolutely hate it – I’d like to be able to get out to somewhere that was more like here before they ruined it,” explained Rosie, who has lived in the area for almost 25 years.
“Everybody says they’re doing this for the next generation, but they are just ruining the world for the next generation.”
Simon Bond, from the Lightfoot Lane Area Residents’ Association added: “You can see as you travel all the way down the motorway – anything that was green has gone.”
He also complained that promises that transport infrastructure would be in place before all the new properties were built had failed to materialise.
In that view, he was not alone. Hoyles Lane resident Karen Whelan wanted to know why the area was still waiting for the schools and medical facilities pledged in the masterplan for the area.
“I’m a cynic, I don’t think they will ever happen – the builders just descend on the area, make their profits and clear off,” said Karen, who has lived in the area for 15 years and once looked out over a field – which is now the foundations of a new estate.
“Where is the influx of workers that we were supposed to need these houses for? It was just a nonsense justification.
“There were also all sorts of assumptions when the planning applications went in about how many cars households would have and how many people would start travelling by bike – and it just doesn’t come to fruition.”
Chris Blackburn, a senior planner at Preston City Council, said that there are a projects on the horizon that "hopefully will start to make people look at other ways they can move around Preston than by car".
“Cottam Parkway Railway station is due by 2024. This year, there will also be a new rapid bus service from Cottam to the city centre, which will also serve Tom Benson Way and the Royal Preston. Then there is money going in to the canal towpath from Cottam to the city centre to improve it as a pedestrian cycle route.”
Mr. Blackburn added.that the authority had initially been unable to implement the systematic approach that it sought to developing North West Preston, because of the "impatience" of housebuilders.
"Developers pushed the council to make decisions through the planning application process. The authority initially refused many applications in the area, primarily on highway impact grounds; however, we had to back away from defending appeals," he explained.
But as a battle-scarred objector to several of the developments in North West Preston that are now being built, Karen still believes in the value of submitting her views to the current consultation.
“You don’t have to be an expert – being a resident is the most important thing,” she said.
WHAT DO THEY WANT TO KNOW?
The local plan consultation is not concerned only with individual sites for development. It covers all aspects of life in Central Lancashire – including health, transport, the economy and climate change.
There are almost 70 questions in the survey – but respondents can answer as many as they choose.
Among the specific questions are those seeking views on the spread of student accommodation, the amount of car parking available in town centres and whether restrictions should be placed on the number of takeaways allowed to open.
There is also a youth survey, with targeted questions for 11-21-year-olds across the region.
Extensive supporting documents provide background information to help anybody wishing to respond.
The closing date for the consultation is Friday 14th February.
HOW DO I MAKE MY VIEWS KNOWN?
The consultation documents and questionnaire are available online at: centrallocalplan.lancashire.gov.uk
Hard copies of the information – showing all of the suggested sites – plus large maps of individual wards, are available for inspection at the remaining drop-in sessions (see below), main libraries and at the headquarters of each of Central Lancashire’s three local authorities – Preston and Chorley town halls and South Ribble’s Civic Centre in Leyland.
Planning officers are on hand to provide information at the following venues:
South Ribble – Mon 3rd Feb, 12-2pm & 3.30-5.30pm, St Aidan’s Church Hall, Bamber Bridge
Preston – Mon 3rd Feb, 4-7pm, Town Hall, Lancaster Road
Chorley – Tue 4th Feb, 5-8pm, St Michael’s CE High School, Chorley
Chorley – Thurs 6th Feb, 4-7pm, Lancaster Lane Community Primary School, Clayton-le-Woods
Chorley – Tue 11th Feb, 4-7pm, Whittle-le-Woods Community Hall
Chorley – Wed 12th Feb, 4-7pm, St George’s CE Primary School, Chorley
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN
Current consultation – ends 14th February
Preferred options consultation – June to August 2021
Publication of draft plan – October to December 2022
Submission for inspection – March 2023
Adoption – December 2023
4,500 - number of unique visitors to Central Lancashire Local Plan consultation website
750 - number of people so far to have attended drop-in sessions
400 - number of schoolchildren to have submitted consultation responses