While a school has long been earmarked for the location – on land west of Tabley Lane and just south of the M55 in Higher Bartle – the plot for local facilities was scrapped in a previous proposal for the development, which was due to be considered by councillors back in November.
Preston City Council’s planning committee deferred its decision on that application after hearing that the authority was engaged in ongoing discussions with housebuilders Bloor Homes and Taylor Wimpey about the non-residential aspects of the proposed scheme.
Committee members have now approved a revised version of the development which once again reserves a hectare of space for the local centre, which is likely to consist of a convenience store and other retail units.
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However, the developers have successfully argued that, as a result, they will be unable to provide any properties in the affordable homes category – when 30 percent of the dwellings on such a development would usually be required to meet that classification. They also said that they would be able to contribute just £109,000 towards the building of the East-West link road in the area – less than four percent of the £2.8m that would otherwise have been expected of them.
Under a special agreement, Preston City Council will be able to claw back any extra cash that the firms end up making over and above the level they have forecast. The housebuilders will also pay out £3.1m to the authority in community infrastructure levy.
Katie Howarth, the agent for the application, told the planning committee meeting that the majority of the site was now being given over to community facilities and open space, leaving just 48 percent of the plot available for housebuilding – less than any other development in the North West Preston masterplan area, where up to 5,500 homes are expected to be built by the mid-2030s.
Without any infrastructure provision at all, the land could have accommodated 513 homes. The reintroduction of the local centre has resulted in a reduction of 32 dwellings from the 352 envisaged in November, which Ms. Howarth said had “further eroded its viability”.
She added that the agreement with the council was the result of “many months of hard work and negotiation between the parties”.
However, committee member Cllr Harry Landless called for a concrete timeframe within which the local facilities – and especially the school – would be built.
“We are constantly…passing the housing developments, but there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of progress on things like the schools,” he said, adding that the additional infrastructure was necessary to “discourage use of the car and make a complete picture”.
As the Lancashire Post revealed last month, there is growing disquiet over the fact that none of the three schools – two primaries and one secondary – planned as part of the development of North West Preston has yet materialised.
Cllr David Borrow told the meeting that he would expect rapid movement on delivery of the five-hectare school “when the kids arrive” in the area.
Amongst the 50 representations made about the plans were calls for the secondary facility to be built before the houses.
The committee heard that the outline permission granted for the development is subject to final agreement over the so-called “review mechanism” that will enable the council to recover more money for the East-West link road and a contribution towards the provision of affordable homes elsewhere in the city, should the development prove more profitable than currently predicted.
However, members were told that the developers want that review to take place upon completion of the 50th dwelling on the site – which was dismissed as being “too soon” by planning officer James Mercer, who said that the assessed financial viability of the estate would be unlikely to have changed by that point.
He added that the council and the applicants were currently “thrashing out the fine details to make sure [that the mechanism] does the job it needs to do”.
The developers have set a target return of between 15 and 20 percent for the scheme in order to consider it viable. Once the review has taken place, there will be no further opportunity for the council to claim any additional financial contributions if the profitability of the development increases – which is why the authority wants to see more homes built before that assessment is conducted.
Following earlier negotiations, it was also agreed that the estate would include a “green buffer” connecting Tabley Lane and Sandy Lane across the north of the site – and linking in to one of the two metropolitan parks planned for North West Preston.
Planning committee chair Peter Moss said that the outcome for all concerned showed the value in developers and local authorities working together rather than taking an “adversarial” approach of “us and them”.
Several committee members warned that the drainage system in the area was already struggling to cope even before the pressure created by the addition of another 320 homes – with Cllr Neil Darby noting that flooding was proving a problem to the south of the site.
Preston City Council’s head of planning and development Natalie Somers said that United Utilities was putting in place “interim solutions” – and told the committee that a longer-term upgrade was part of the firm’s five-year plan back in 2019/20.
“Unfortunately, you can’t just flick a switch and the problem is solved overnight,” Mrs. Somers said.
Cllr Jennifer Mein said it was indeed “unfortunate” that the necessary works had not yet been carried out, given that the development of the North West Preston area had been known about since 2013.
There will be four access points to the new estate – via a new priority T-junction on the East-West link road, two other such junctions on Sandy Lane and by changing the priority of Tabley Lane so that its southern approach forms the ‘minor’ arm of a new junction.
The meeting heard that the alteration should have the effect of taking traffic away from that section of Tabley Lane.
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