South Ribble Council's pub purchase mystery
Back in 2012, South Ribble Council spent a reported Â£500,000 of taxpayers' money on buying a pub.
The idea behind the purchase of the McKenzie Arms in Station Road, Bamber Bridge, was to bulldoze it to create an access route for a major redevelopment of the abandoned New Mill.
But six years on, the plot remains a derelict eyesore and the developers behind the mill plans have put in a new application – with access on a different route.
Locals remain baffled and frustrated by the lack of progress with the redevelopment plans, as the former pub site is in the middle of a shopping street where Â£3.5m of public money has just been spent creating an “urban village feel”.
A spokesman for Countryside Properties, the developer behind the mill plans, said: “Access via Station Road was our original preferred option and every attempt was made to progress that scheme.
“Due to matters outside of our control the transaction for the former pub land experienced lengthy delays, which led to the decision to pursue the alternative.”
But the council has remained tight-lipped about the reasons for the delay and the alternative planning application, citing only “legal issues”.
“It sticks out like a sore thumb,” admitted Coun Cliff Hughes, the South Ribble cabinet member responsible for planning.
South Ribble Council admits there are two planning permissions in force – one using the old McKenzie Arms site as access and the other using a point halfway up Wesley Street, not far from the entrance to a primary school.
According to Coun Hughes it is up to the developers which one is eventually selected.
In the meantime the council, he says, is trying to resolve “a bit of an issue” with the McKenzie site.
“It’s a land ownership thing,” he said. “Well, yes, we bought it and we own it. We dropped the pub. But then we discovered problems with the site.
“They are legal issues, they are confidential, but they are being sorted out.
“Hopefully it will be cleared up in the not-too-distant future. I’m confident it can be, although we could do without this hiccup.
“I don’t like Wesley Street as the entrance. That was the whole purpose why we bought the pub. That’s the preferred access from the council’s point of view.”
Fellow councilor Graham Walton, who until last week was cabinet member for neighbourhoods and street scenes, also declined to go into detail about the nature of the McKenzie Arms snag.
“It is being debated at the moment,” he said. “I think it will be addressed within a short time.
“It has been on the agenda for years, but it’s slowly getting there. It’s legal wrangling. The site is ours and the access road (from Station Road) was initially how we envisaged it.”
Back in November a top secret report was presented to the council’s scrutiny committee explaining the hold-up. The press and public were excluded from that part of the meeting because of the confidential nature of the report.
Only members of that committee have seen the report, with other councillors claiming they are as much in the dark as the people of Bamber Bridge.
After the meeting all the council minutes said was that the report “provided an update on a number of issues in relation to the purchase of the previous McKenzie Arms site”.
It suggested that councillors may not have been fully advised about the deal back in 2012 and a new protocol should now be introduced to prevent the same thing happening in the future. It also mentioned disposing of the site.
In the meantime locals remain concerned at the prospect of an alternative entrance to the site, which utilises the already congested Wesley Street.
“It’s already a serious bottleneck as it is,” said resident Chris McMullan who lives round the corner from Wesley Street where more traffic than ever will be queuing to get in or out of the new estate.
“It’s not big enough to handle all those extra cars.”
No one, it would appear, knows for certain what will be happening to the traffic being created by almost 200 additional homes on the development, named Wren Green by the developers.
Countryside Properties (UK) Ltd say they are keen to work closely with the community in Bamber Bridge over the 196-house development.But they blame a lack of progress on the McKenzie Arms issue for forcing them to consider Wesley Street as the main access point.“We can confirm that there are two planning approvals for the Wren Green development,” said a spokesman. “Access via Station Road was our original preferred option and every attempt was made to progress that scheme. “Due to matters outside of our control the transaction for the former pub land experienced lengthy delays, which led to the decision to pursue the alternative. “The Wesley Street scheme was appropriately considered by the council and it underwent extensive consultation, including a public consultation prior to the plans being submitted for approval and consultation during the application process.“Health and safety is of paramount importance to our business, we have been liaising with the nearby school and are keen to work closely with the local community, to ensure as little disruption as possible. “We will endeavour to keep the local residents and businesses updated on the progress of the project and would welcome any constructive feedback.”
Plan is ‘disaster in the making’
Derek Rogerson ran an unsuccessful campaign to save the old Wesley Street mill from the bulldozers.Now, through his regular blog Bamber Bridge Bulletin, he is pressing for the McKenzie site to be the main access road into the housing development.Yet he claims he has been frustrated trying to get information from the council about the reasons for the hold-up.“I have tried very hard to get things out of them, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, they are extremely reticent,” he said, describing the plan as a “disaster in the making”.“Using Wesley Street would be absolutely horrendous. It is already a problem for traffic trying to get out onto Station Road, even without new houses.“This is our town with enough traffic issues at this present time without adding to the problem unduly. “Once built, the developer can move on from the chaos. We, however, are going to be stuck with it for the foreseeable future.”He urged the council to “take note of the people who put you in office to look after their best interests and listen to what they are saying”.