Leyland test track to get 950 homes and a business park after developer rethinks plans

The Leyland test track has lain unused for 14 years
The Leyland test track has lain unused for 14 years
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One of the biggest housing and employment developments in Central Lancashire has been given the go-ahead on the site of the former Leyland Motors test track.

Up to 950 homes and thousands of square metres of business space will be built on the disused facility in Midge Hall, after councillors approved a revised plan by the housebuilder Barratt Homes – two years after it was first submitted.

Midge Hall Community Group members Nick Berry, Janet Berry, Alan Green and Stuart Duffield

Midge Hall Community Group members Nick Berry, Janet Berry, Alan Green and Stuart Duffield

The decision was given a cautious welcome by a community group which has led a campaign for changes to the proposals, which it says were needed for the sake of existing residents – and those yet to arrive.

South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee deferred its decision on the development back in March, branding the promised number of affordable homes on the estate “pitiful”.

At the time, the firm had promised that just 10 percent of the properties would be available for affordable rent or shared ownership. In spite of increasing its offer by another four percent during the committee meeting, the company was still less than halfway towards the 30 percent demanded by the authority on new developments – and councillors sent the firm away to think again.

Over six months later, the application was back before the committee – now with a commitment to provide the full quota of affordable homes requested, a total of 285. There had also been tweaks to the separation distances between some properties, which had also previously proved a stumbling block.

Council leader Paul Foster praised the combative stance taken by the authority.

“The developers were adamant that their viability assessments would not allow one penny more into the affordable homes pot. The council put its full resources into challenging [that] and I’m proud that it will now be fully compliant,” Cllr Foster said.

But the biggest compliments were reserved for the Midge Hall Community Group (MHCG), which offered its support to the scheme for the first time. Ots members had always accepted that the site would be developed – but had refused to accept what was originally on offer.

“A lot of time and energy has gone in by the residents to influence [the creation of] a better scheme than the one which was first submitted – and they have achieved, through their tenacity, a lot more than was originally provided,” planning case officer Catherine Lewis said.

The concessions and additions which the group secured – some of which were on the table at the first planning hearing – included traffic-calming measures and a comprehensive network of green corridors running through the site.

Two and a half miles of shared-use paths, suitable for pedestrians, cyclists and the local horseriding community, are now a prominent feature of the proposed estate.

Community group member Nick Berry said that the locals were in “unfamiliar territory” in backing the application this time round – and did so with reservations.

“We believe it is important to secure the benefits which have been achieved on behalf of local residents, rather than place them in jeopardy by postponing the inevitable.

“We are still not convinced that we are looking at a flagship development as we envisaged it three and a half years ago, but clearly significant changes have taken place with the help of South Ribble Council, Lancashire County Council’s highways department and the developers,” Mr Berry said.

But he appealed for the authorities to continue monitoring the delivery of the commitments which had been made – and said his group would do the same.

Speaking on behalf of Barratt Homes, Rob Loughenbury from Lexington Communications, assured the committee that there would be “no rowing back” on any promises made to the community.

Another victory for the campaigners was the decision by the developer to introduce more varied external design features into the properties to be built. Around a fifth of the homes will now include chimneys and a similar proportion will have variations in the colour of their roof tiles.

But MHCG member Alan Green suggested that battle over this development had been only partially won – and that the war over the approach to modern estates would go on.

“We acknowledge and appreciate that the developers have amended the designs, but little or no regard appears to have been given to the existing architecture in the area. The resultant development will be another one of bland mediocrity on a grand scale,” Mr. Green claimed.

Committee member Cllr Mary Green said that the three-storey height of a selection of the house styles was not in-keeping with the rural area and called for them to be moved away from parts of the estate which back on to low-level farm properties.

But planning permission was granted in full for the first phase of the development, which will see 197 properties built in the north-eastern portion of the 40 hectare plot. Outline permission was given for up to 753 further dwellings.

A primary school funded by the developer will be built on the site at a date to be decided by Lancashire County Council, while Chorley and South Ribble clinical commissioning group is also being consulted over the provision of a GP surgery.

The meeting heard that the development would deliver £30m of benefit to the community, including highway improvements, a funded bus service for the estate for five years and additional green space. The scheme will also generate £6.3m in community infrastructure levy – money which will go into a pot managed by the Preston and South Ribble City Deal to accommodate the demands placed upon by the region by the creation of new homes.

Barratt Homes has committed to offsetting the loss of ecological habitat on the test track site by enhancing the neighbouring Paradise Park. Cllr Foster also revealed that the authority would be looking to legally protect that area from any future development.

The 28,000 square meters of employment space will now also be limited to office or light industrial use, after concerns were expressed about the suitability of the site for the warehousing units previously proposed.

Committee member James Flannery also put forward a strengthened requirement for use of local firms and labour as part of the construction process across the whole development – which was backed by fellow members.

“Rather than having white vans come from Manchester and Liverpool, let the local businesses enjoy the benefits of this type of development, which can sustain more local employment, particularly for younger people,” Cllr Flannery said.

AFFORDABLE HOMES ROW

Committee member Mary Green questioned whether the commitment now made by the developer that 30 percent of the properties should be affordable could be supported by the test track plot alone.

“The site is not sustainable for [that number] – if people are going into affordable housing…they may not have a car. There is one bus an hour and the new one which will be running through the estate.

“So how are people going to get to work if they haven’t got their own transport or children get to secondary schools and colleges in Leyland?”

“There are areas of the borough that could do with affordable housing, because there are a lot of young people who can’t get on the ladder and have to move away,” Cllt Green said, calling for half of the 285 affordable homes instead to be delivered on future developments elsewhere.

But in testy exchanges committee chair Caleb Tomlinson said the suggestion would “throw back in their face” the revised commitments made by the developer.

“We asked for 30 percent affordable homes on this site. And on every single big development we are going to demand 30 percent – that’s the end of that discussion,” he said.

SMOOTH ROAD AHEAD?

Several junctions which are expected to be affected by traffic from the new development will be redesigned, including ‘tiger junction’ – where Longmeanygate meets Golden Hill Lane and Leyland Lane – and the roundabout at Comet Road, Flensburg Way and Schleswig Way. The traffic light junction of Schelswig Way and Dunkirk Lane and the mini-roundabout at Broadfield Drive will also be altered.

The £3.3m cost of the upgrade works – which will focus on improving vehicle manoeuvrability, traffic flow and pedestrian safety – will be covered by Barratt Homes.

A weight restriction will be introduced on Midge Hall Lane, but MHCG member Stuart Duffield said it was a “missed opportunity” not to have banned HGVs from a wider area on the approach from Bretherton along Cocker Bar Road.

“The rat-running of HGVs seems to have massively increased over the last 18 months,” he said, calling for the “back door” into Midge Hall to be closed.

Instead, Lancashire County Council’s highways department will carry out Barratt’s-funded surveys of how junctions in the area are operating as each stage of the development is completed – and will only then decide if further restrictions are necessary. Several of the junctions will be monitored by CCTV.

"If it is a local HGV, we don't mind it being on the local network, but if it is a strategic vehicle movement, we want it to be using the Penwortham bypass and the A582," said Neil Stevens, the authority's highways development control manager.

Meanwhile, part of the existing Longmeanygate between two access points to the new estate will be turned into a “quiet lane” with traffic-calming measures installed. A ‘new’ Longmeanygate will run through part of the development. Paradise Lane will be open to buses only beyond a particular point.