"Premature" 1,100-home Preston estate approved to avoid £200m new road being dug up later

Plans for up to 1,100 new homes in a rural part of Preston have been approved after councillors were told that a major new road being built in the area was already radically altering its character anyway.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 7:54 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd April 2021, 12:22 am

The 45 hectare development in Bartle will be accessed from the Preston Western Distributor Road (PWDR), a dual carriageway currently under construction which will connect the A583 Blackpool Road with a new junction on the M55 motorway.

A meeting of Preston City Council’s planning committee also heard that if a decision on the application was delayed, it would lead to part of that £200m route having to be ripped up should the proposal get the green light at a later date.

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One of the parcels of land to be built upon in Bartle

Planning officers recommended approval of the scheme after concluding that the scheme would represent “a sustainable urban extension to Preston” – unlike, members were told, the series of controversial proposals for developments around villages to the north of the city, which are currently mired in planning appeals and a legal challenge.

Papers presented to the committee stated that the PWDR would in itself lead to “irreversible, significant changes” to the open countryside location “to the extent that it will lose its open and rural character” when the route opens in spring 2023.

Full planning permission has now been granted for the construction of a roundabout to access the development, which is divided into four zones on land close to Bartle Hall. The PWDR will cut through the overall site, with the roundabout providing entrances from spurs to the east and west of the new route.

Outline permission has been given for the homes themselves on the basis of two options to be decided later – the most likely of which would see the building of around 1,050 properties and a new primary school and neighbourhood amenities on the site.

Members were told that there was a “a very small chance” that Lancashire County Council could change its position on the need for the school in future, in which case 1,100 homes would be built. Under both scenarios, the developer will be expected to contribute around £12m to the creation of more than 400 primary school and over 160 secondary school places in the area.

Alban Cassidy, the agent for joint applicants Robertson Group and The Trustees of the Tom Barron Pension Scheme, said the construction of the PWDR provided a “narrow window of opportunity” to develop the site.

He added that City Deal funding for the route should be “maximised to facilitate new development”.

However, the site is not currently allocated for housing in the city’s local plan – a document which is currently going through a lengthy review as part of work to create a new joint local plan covering the whole of Central Lancashire. As part of that process, the public has been invited to suggest sites for future development over the next 15 years – with the Bartle location being put forward by the landowner.

Committee member Neil Darby said granting permission at this stage seemed “premature”, with the new local plan not due to be adopted until the end of 2023.

“It feels like a lot of weight is put towards the benefits of having this roundabout in place and I can understand the arguments…but it feels a little bit like we are pre-empting what the new local plan is going to say, which means that we’re jumping ahead without the scrutiny that [the process] would [usually] have,” Cllr Darby added.

Fellow committee member Jennifer Mein noted that if the development was refused, “we wouldn’t need that roundabout anyway”.

Committee papers revealed that as part of the compulsory purchase of the land needed for the PWDR, it had been agreed that Lancashire County Council – which is delivering the road – would, in exchange for that land, be “obligated to work with the applicant to deliver a roundabout…to allow access to the landowners’ parcels of land, including the application site”.

Cllr Sue Whittam said that amounted to an agreement which said: ‘You can have my land, but we want a roundabout there, so we can get a load of houses [built]’.”

She added that the adjacent North West Preston Strategic Location – where around 5,000 homes are planned over a period of 20 years – “seems to be expanding or changing without any sort of proper plan”.

However, planning officer Phil Cousins told members that allowing the PWDR to be completed and then “partially demolished” to facilitate future development would likely be criticised for wasting public money.

He added: “We’ve got a site which we consider to be an urban fringe location, not on the edge of a village like similar schemes we have put before you.

“We’ve also got a major piece of infrastructure [to which] this residential development will have access – but also the applicant is actually going to fund part of the infrastructure, with the new roundabout. Therefore, we actually consider this to be a sustainable location,” Mr. Cousins added.

Preston City Council’s cabinet member for planning, Peter Moss – who also sits on the planning committee – said that while there were issues that would “weigh heavily” in the decision, the proposed development answered some of the complaints made about other sites in the city.

“One of the things we often get criticised for…is that we permit housing development without putting the infrastructure in place [first].

“Clearly, here, the infrastructure is in place and the road is therefore available prior to the development,” Cllr Moss said.

Cllr David Borrow added that while the “sequencing” of the proposal was not ideal, “the logic” behind it was clear.

“If you’re building a new road from the M55 down to Blackpool Road [and you have this] little corner next to land we have already allocated for development – and where the road goes through it – it seems pretty obvious that if that [area] can be allocated and developed for housing, that’s probably preferable than looking at other parts of the city to develop,” Cllr Borrow said.

Mr. Cassidy also told the committee that the Bartle wetlands that are within the site would be a “key focus” of the development and that green infrastruture plans would see biodiversity in the area “significantly enhanced”.

The application was approved by nine votes to two.