The protesters in Penwortham say their rural idyll is in danger of being bulldozed to make way for one of Central Lancashire’s biggest residential developments.
And they claim they have been greeted by a wall of silence from both South Ribble Council and housebuilders Taylor Wimpey.
The builder and the Government’s housing delivery agency Homes England have carried out public consultation exercises in recent months and expect to be in a position to submit their “Masterplan” for the development by the end of this month.
“No-one has given us the courtesy of a reply,” said Peter Waterhouse who, along with his partner Debora Harding, is amongst the organisers of the Keep Bee Lane Rural campaign. “The developers seem to think it’s a done deal. And the council are just ignoring us.
“But we’re determined to do all in our power to either stop it, or at least slow it down. It’s massive and it’s not needed.”
The 222-acre site, known as Pickering’s Farm, sits between Penwortham and Lostock Hall. According to locals it is the last piece of unspoilt countryside for some distance.
And, should it be developed, they say the two towns would effectively join together.
Almost 600 residents have so far signed a petition calling on South Ribble Council to reject the proposal and retain the rural buffer between Penwortham and Lostock Hall.
A further 500 have joined a Facebook group to register their disapproval of the plan.
“We have been involved in the consultation process - if you can call it that - and neither South Ribble nor Taylor Wimpey want to talk to us because we are against it,” said Peter, whose home in Bee Lane will be surrounded by new housing.
“They see us as being negative, which we are in this instance.
“We are all meeting up to put together some sort of action plan. Someone has to say ‘hold on - this isn’t right.’
“It’s not just the fact that this is valuable green belt land. But the infrastructure just isn’t there for something so vast. The roads are struggling to cope even now.
“We have handed out leaflets at the two consultation meetings in Penwortham and Leyland and at one of them we were told by an architect: ‘It’s going to happen, so deal with it.’
“This development is massive. Originally we were told it was going to be as many as 3,000 houses, but now it’s 1,350.
“People will say stopping something like this impossible. We are the little people and we will get trodden underfoot. But all we can do is try.
“This area is green belt and it’s beautiful. It is full of wildlife which will be destroyed.
“We’ve written a five-page letter to the cabinet member for planning at South Ribble, but he hasn’t bothered to respond. There are a lot of questions which need answering and we aren’t getting answers.
“It’s almost clandestine the way it’s been handled. Many people wouldn’t have been aware of what’s going on if we hadn’t raised it.”
Coun Cliff Hughes, South Ribble’s cabinet member for strategic planning, housing and economic growth, admitted he had received the campaign group’s letter and had not yet replied.
“I will chase it up and I will respond,” he said. “But this land has been earmarked for housing for a long time in our local plan.
“It’s a lot of houses. But we have to have a five-year supply of land at any one time and we have just about that at the moment.
“If we took out Pickering’s Farm then a day later we would have planning applications coming in for greenfield sites all across the borough. If we don’t have enough houses coming through to suit the government’s requirements then people will just build anywhere.
“And that’s the problem. If people who want Pickering’s Farm to remain rural can come up with another suitable site we would look at it.”
Coun Elizabeth Mawson, whose ward includes part of the vast site, added: “I’m a bit surprised to hear that this group have had no response from the council and the developer. There have been quite a number of consultations taking place and it has been discussed with the residents for quite some time.
“I understand that it’s worrying. But the consultations have not finished yet and they still have time to influence how things are developed.
“I didn’t know about this petition and I would like to look into it more. It is not in anyone’s benefit that we are developing things that local residents don’t want.”
A Taylor Wimpey spokesman said: “Taylor Wimpey and Homes England have undertaken extensive and unprecedented consultation to ensure that the local community plays a central role in shaping the vision for this site. Almost 200 people have provided their input into the Masterplan and we have benefited greatly from the ideas and feedback received.
“Taylor Wimpey and Homes England are aware of a small group of individuals who are running a campaign against any future development at this site. However, over 6,500 local residents were invited to provide their ideas and feedback through the Visioning Consultation, which included two visioning events and bespoke masterplanning sessions held locally. For those unable to attend, a dedicated project website, Facebook page, email address and telephone line have been established to capture feedback and answer questions.
“As the plans progress, Taylor Wimpey and Homes England remain committed to continuing our dialogue with the local community, include those living closest to and within the site”.