Redrow Homes applied for permission for the larger estate - on land off Town Lane in Whittle-le-Woods - in 2020, while it had also eyed a site on Tincklers Lane in Eccleston for the more modest development.
Chorley Council’s planning committee said last April that it would have been “minded” to refuse both applications, but by the time members came to consider them, Redrow had already launched an appeal. That was because the authority had exceeded a 13-week time limit to reach a decision in the matter.
A planning inquiry was held last August and the inspector chairing it - Louise Gibbons - has now concluded that the proposed Whittle development should be blocked, because it would “harm highway safety”. In a decision notice, she warned that residents would have to walk in the road along parts of Town Lane if they wanted to access local services and bus routes on the A6, Chorley Old Road, by foot.
Noting the “extremely narrow” and, at times, non-existent footpath on that stretch of Town Lane, Ms. Gibbons said that it posed a particular problem for those with pushchairs or in wheelchairs - and added that more pedestrians and cyclists in the area as a result of the proposed estate would “increase the potential for accidents and near misses”.
The inspector was also unconvinced by a separate, secondary access to the development - proposed by Redrow - for walkers and bike-riders, in the form of a near-200-metre path from Town Lane through to the dwellings on the estate.
Although it would have created a bypass around the most dangerous parts of the route, the hilly nature of the proposed housing site would have meant that it ran at a gradient of eight percent for more than half of its length and six percent for a significant part of the remainder.
Highway design standards deem a 2.5 percent incline to be manageable for most people, whilst eight percent is considered an absolute maximum - but only over very short distances, because of the toppling risk it creates for wheelchairs and the effort it would require for wheelchair users and cyclists to negotiate such a gradient.
Ms. Gibbons said that the steepness of the path could also cause safety issues at the point at which people emerged onto Town Lane as a result of variation in stopping distances - for those on two feet or two or four wheels - depending on the conditions at the time.
In contrast, she found that plans for a new footpath and cycle link as part of the proposed Eccleston development would actually improve the situation in that area by providing a “better connection to the wider footpath network for existing residents and future occupiers”, allowing them easier access to village services. Currently, parts of Tincklers Lane are also minus a pavement.
The new estate would be “appropriately located and supported”, the inspector ruled.
Her contrasting conclusions left locals in Eccleston in despair while their counterparts in Whittle expressed their delight.
Dorothy Livesey, who has lived in her home backing onto the Tincklers Lane site for 55 years, rejected any suggestion that the development could be considered suitable - or sustainable.
"Nobody wants houses built behind them when they have looked out over green fields for so long, but it should have been refused on traffic grounds alone. There are a lot more cars in the area now and there are always issues by the [primary] school on Doctors Lane.
“Eccleston used to be a village, but with the number of new houses that have gone up, it’s getting overcrowded.
“I also don't understand how [the developer] could go straight to appeal before the council had even made a decision,” Dorothy added.
Geoff Bury, who had opposed the Tincklers Lane plans from the moment they were first mooted, said that the decision to approve them was “beyond disappointing”.
“It just seems as though every piece of land is up for grabs - everywhere you go, another one is being swallowed up and concreted over.
“Chorley Council have done their best to stop this development, but it’s going ahead - the whole democratic process feels like it is under threat,” Mr. Bury said.
Eccleston, Heskin and Charnock Richard ward councillor Alan Whittaker described the approval of the development as “obscene” - and warned that local schools and GP surgeries were already full.
“They try to justify it by saying it will provide some low-cost homes - but we have low-cost homes in Eccleston now,” he said.
Over in Whittle, there was sympathy for Eccleston folk - but relief that their own fears had not come to pass.
Tina Newall, vice-chair of Whittle-le-Woods Parish Council - but speaking in a personal capacity - said that “common sense has prevailed”.
Although Ms. Gibbons had significant site-specific issues to consider in both of the appeals, she also - like several of her planning inspectorate colleagues before her - had to turn her attention to the vexed matter of how many houses should be built in each of Central Lancashire’s three districts every year.
Chorley Council ran the same argument that it did in another appeal last year against its refusal of permission for over 120 homes off Blainscough Lane in Coppull - the outcome of which was revealed earlier this month and saw the authority fail to defend its planning committee’s original decision.
The same fate has now befallen that defence in the Eccleston and Whittle appeals - although in the latter, the inspector’s road safety concerns still led to the proposed development being refused.
However, it means that another inspector has now rejected Chorley’s contention that past over-delivery of new homes against its minimum requirements - largely due to the development of Buckshaw Village - should entitle it to a reduced rate of housebuilding during the final years of its current local plan.
The council had suggested that its share of a Central Lancashire-wide arrangement to pool and redistribute minimum housing needs across Chorley, Preston and South Ribble should drop from 417 homes per year to 109. However, Ms. Gibbons concluded that such a figure would be “artificially low”.
She also ruled that the agreement on which it was based - which was signed in 2012 and renewed in 2017 - was now out-of-date and that a new calculation introduced by the government in 2018 should be used instead.
Known as the "standard method", that would push Chorley’s new housing need up to 569 dwellings a year and render it unable to show that it had a five-year supply of land available to meet such a target. In turn, that opens up the risk that so-called “safeguarded land” - like the plots off Town Lane and Tincklers Lane - must be approved for development even though they are supposed to be protected for the duration of the current local plan period through until 2026.
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said of the outcome of the Eccleston appeal that it was “disappointing in the extreme that a government-appointed planning inspector has again overridden the best interests of our community”.
“While we are pleased to see common sense prevail with regard to the site at Town Lane, the decision over Tincklers Lane is yet another example of central government riding roughshod over local authorities who are in a much better position to understand the needs of an area and its residents.
“Once again, we are victims of our own success, as the methodology being used by the government to determine future housebuilding is penalising those areas who have previously done what the government has asked.
“We have already done our fair share of housebuilding – building more houses than all our neighbouring authorities - and yet the demands made of us keep going up while targets for other areas in Lancashire are going down. This is simply not fair.”
Meanwhile, Redrow Lancashire’s planning director Robin Buckley welcomed the permission granted to build in Eccleston which he said was “an area where high-quality housing is in high demand”.
“We look forward to delivering a range of arts-and-crafts-inspired homes, along with areas of green space and improved wildlife habitats.
“We are still reviewing the appeal decision at Town Lane, Whittle-le-Woods,” Mr. Buckley added.
Mark Clifford, Lancashire county councillor for the Clayton with Whittle division, said he feared that Redrow would "try again" with another application for the site.
"But we will be ready to fight again," he warned.