Housing bid for garden of 19th-century Preston property thrown out by councillors

Plans to build houses in the historic garden of a listed building in Preston have been rejected.
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The proposal would have seen 24 dwellings and a retail unit - with two apartments above it - constructed in the grounds of one-time school Larches House.

The blueprint was knocked back by Preston City Council's planning committee for a raft of reasons - chief amongst them that it was deemed to damage “the setting” of the Grade II-listed property.

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However, the developer behind the scheme has told the Lancashire Post that he “will not be giving up” on his vision for the Larches Lane site.

Larches House, pictured prior to its recent renovationLarches House, pictured prior to its recent renovation
Larches House, pictured prior to its recent renovation

Larches House was originally built in 1838 as a luxury residence before being converted into a special school in 1954. That facility closed six years ago and the building has since been converted into offices and flats.

The latest plan, by Bamber Bridge-based Sapphire Construction Solutions, was to create a collection of terrace and semi-detached dwellings within the extensive gardens of the property, following demolition of two prefabricated classrooms and an existing dwelling.

A report by city council planning officers noted that the principle of developing the plot - which sits within the urban area of Preston - was acceptable. However, it was concluded that two of the seven phases of the development would cause “unacceptable harm” to the surroundings of Larches House - altering the views to and from the listed building.

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While the harm was assessed as being “less than substantial”, committee members were advised by offices that it should nevertheless be given “great weight”.

The meeting at which the decision was made heard that the developer was willing to compensate for the loss of green space by making a financial contribution to improving nearby Ashton Park. However, the grounds of Larches House were considered to have “historic value” in themselves - and the proposed reduction in their size and scope was found to have “a direct and unacceptable impact”.

Committee member - and Lea and Larches ward councillor - David Borrow said that there was “considerable concern in the area about the proposals”, adding that the site had been a “beautiful” one when the school was in operation, but had “changed a great deal in the years since then”. Seventeen public objections were lodged to the plans.

Town hall planning officer Jonathan Evans said that the developer had “failed to address” matters of concern which had been highlighted by the council earlier in the application process. The papers presented to the committee noted that while the proposed number of dwellings had since been reduced by four, the plans still covered the same area as they had in their original form.

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However, speaking to the Post, Mick Patel, director of Sapphire Construction Solutions, claimed that the company had offered to make further amendments to deal with the authority’s concerns.

He added that he planned to pursue the project - either by submitting a revised proposal or appealing against the council's refusal of permission, depending on legal advice.

“We're in desperate need of housing - and these were [going to be] aimed at people who can't get a house.

“That's why we didn't propose building massive properties, we [were going to build] smaller houses to give people a chance to get on the property [ladder],” said Mr. Patel who did not address the committee meeting.

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Thirty percent of the proposed dwellings would have fallen into the “affordable homes” category, as required by Preston’s local planning policy for an estate of the type put forward.

However, the city council concluded that that amounted to a “generic” benefit which did not outweigh the harm that the development was deemed to cause.