South Ribble village housebuilding plan rejected as fight goes on against Pickering's Farm development

A final attempt to resurrect a controversial proposal to build 100 homes in a South Ribble village has failed - almost three years after it was first rejected by councillors.

Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 11:31 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 1:15 pm

The plans - for a plot of land off Chain House Lane in Whitestake - would have seen the dwellings spring up on a site that is not currently earmarked for development.

The outcome of various appeals against refusal of the application - which was made by developer Wainhomes - later became pivotal in determining how many new properties should be built in each district across Central Lancashire.

However, a judge has drawn a permanent line under the proposal - at least in its current form - by refusing the firm’s request for a judicial review of the decision taken by a planning inspector last year to uphold the council’s rejection of its proposal.

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This plot of land off Chain House Lane in Whitestake has been in the sights of a developer for three years - but their ambitions look to have been thwarted by a High Court judgement. Should the site now be given the protection of greenbelt status?

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Pickering's Farm: Permission refused for 1,100 homes in Penwortham as one counci...

Meanwhile, the Lancashire Post can reveal that a resident who led the campaign against the Whitestake development is attempting to have the land reclassified as greenbelt - in order to ensure that the site can never again be targeted by a housebuilder.

Jean Berry, from the Say No To Chain House Lane group, has also deployed the same tactic in an attempt to derail equally emotive plans to build 1,100 homes on nearby Pickering’s Farm in Penwortham.

That proposal was rejected by South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee back in November, but it is now the subject of an appeal by developer Taylor Wimpey and the government’s housing delivery agency. Homes England, which jointly put the plans forward.

Taylor Wimpey and Homes England are going to try to get South Ribble Brough Council's refusal of their bid to build 1,100 houses in rural Penwortham overturned by the Planning Inspectorate

Jean told the Post that she had made formal submissions to a previous consultation undertaken as part of ongoing work to draw up a joint local plan for Central Lancashire - and had called for both the Chain House Lane and Pickering’s Farm sites to be given the greenbelt tag when that document is produced within the next two years.

Greenbelt status would mean that any developer wishing to build on them would likely have to demonstrate “very special circumstances” for doing so.

Currently, the Chain House Lane plot - to the rear of a property called Oakdene on the south side of the route - is classed as “safeguarded”. That means that it is not intended to be used for housebuilding for at least the duration of the current South Ribble local plan - but may be given over for that purpose in future.

However, a long-running wrangle over new housing numbers in Central Lancashire saw the site opened up to the prospect of immediate development amid now refuted claims that South Ribble Borough Council was unable to show that it had five years’ worth of land set aside to meet its minimum housebuilding needs.

"Gobsmacked": Keep Bee Lane Rural campaigner Graham Eastham says members of the group were furious when they learned the Pickering's Farm plans were being taken to appeal after such a resounding rejection by councillors

In those circumstances, local authorities are obliged to permit housing on even safeguarded land - unless the reasons for not doing so would substantially outweigh the benefits of enabling a council to meet its new homes target.

Jean says that she wants to see the site protected in perpetuity - whichever way the planning wind may be blowing at the time any future proposal is put on the table.

“I was so pleased when I heard that the judicial review application had fallen through - the relief, after all these years of fighting, was just amazing.

“It’s a feeling of: ‘Yes, we've done it - we've fought the big guys and we’ve won.’

Highways bosses were concerned about plans for the road network around the proposed Pickering's Farm development

“But although the application for 100 homes is now done and dusted, what we don't know is whether [Wainhomes] will try again from a different angle - which they are entitled to do.

“We cannot control that and so I have tried to counteract it by suggesting that Chain House Lane and also Pickering’s Farm are [designated] as greenbelt, which they both were as recently as the 1990s,” Jean explains.

South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster told the LDRS that the campaigner’s move was a “legitimate part of the [local plan] process”.

“There is a multitude of evidence being gathered and every site will have to be looked at for its appropriateness,” Cllr Foster said.

Of the High Court’s decision to refuse a judicial review of the Chain House Lane case, the Labour leader added: “We were absolutely clear and confident in our position.

“Development which is inappropriate will not get the council's support.

Should the Bee Lane area also be designated as greenbelt in order to block development?

"We want to make it absolutely clear that as a council we are pro-development – but only when done in the right way and in a way that is of benefit to our residents and the wider South Ribble community.”

While Chain House Lane went from greenbelt to safeguarded status under more recent local plans, Pickering’s Farm was earmarked as a site actively intended for imminent housing development.

Yet applications for such development on the sprawling plot - which runs between the A582 Penwortham Way and Leyland Road - have been refused twice in as many years.

In September 2020, South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee dismissed a masterplan for the site - christened The Lanes by the applicants - on the basis that it was lacking in detail.

Then, in November last year, a revised masterplan and two specific proposals - one for 920 homes off Penwortham Way, including a local centre for retail, employment and community uses, a two-form entry primary school and green infrastructure, and another for 180 properties to the east of the plot, close to the railway line - were unanimously rejected by committee members.

The meeting at which the plans were thrown out heard a raft of road-related concerns including what was said to be the absence of a “firm commitment” to the completion of South Ribble’s cross-borough link road to run through the site and connect the A582 with the stretch of new east-west route between The Cawsey and the A6, which opened in 2020.

Lancashire County Council highways officials said that a continuing dearth of detail left them dissatisfied with “all aspects” of the application, while Network Rail also raised concerns.

At the time, Gary Halman, the agent for the applications, took aim at those who opposed the development “in principle” - reminding them that the site was officially allocated for housebuilding and must be delivered in order to provide the “continuing source of housing that the borough needs”

However, Graham Eastham, from the campaign group Keep Bee Lane Rural - which has opposed the Pickering’s Farm plans since they were first mooted over three years ago - said that its members were “gobsmacked and extremely angry” that the boomerang blueprint for the plot had once again returned in the form of an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

“This flies completely in the face of local democracy. To receive a recommendation for refusal from planning officers and then a unanimous vote of refusal from the entire planning committee gives you some idea of how bad this application was.

“This will also have huge cost implications for South RIbble Borough Council, who will have to defend their decision.

“After meeting with the leader of the council, Paul Foster, we have been reassured that he will fight this with every means at his disposal - as to fail would be to inflict a lifetime of misery and ill-health on the existing residents of Penwortham, Lostock Hall and Farington.

“For Keep Bee Lane Rural, the fight goes on and we will contest this appeal by reminding the panel of the sheer weight of evidence against [the applications].

“We also believe questions have to be answered by Homes England [about] whether the decision to bring this matter to appeal offers value for taxpayers’ money,” Graham added.

The Post understands that Keep Bee Lane Rural has also been lobbying for the permanent protection of the Pickering’s Farm site under the forthcoming Central Lancashire local plan - the first time that a joint document dictating development collectively across South Ribble, Preston and Chorley will have been produced.

The public inquiry which will hear the appeal against the refusal of the applications for Pickering’s Farm is scheduled to begin on 23rd August.

Cllr Foster told the Post that he did not believe that the infrastructure in the area was “capable of supporting the [proposed] development”.

In a statement about their appeal, Taylor Wimpey and Homes England said: “We have been working closely with South Ribble Borough Council, the local community and other key stakeholders to develop our proposals for Pickering's Farm and we were disappointed with the refusal of our plans in November last year.

“The site has been allocated for development in South Ribble Borough Council’s local plan and we intend to continue our dialogue with the council and other consultees to identify the next steps in bringing forward a scheme that meets the needs of the local community.”

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…

Councillors on South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee first refused a bid by Wainhomes to build 100 homes on land off Chain House Lane in June 2019.

The company appealed against that decision, but in December that year it was backed by a planning inspector following a public inquiry.

The matter then went before a High Court judge who ruled in August 2020 that the inspector’s decision was partially flawed and quashed it. That move did not lead to the automatic granting of planning permission - but instead to the case being considered again by a new inspector at a fresh inquiry.

Before that event was convened, Wainhomes again attempted to get the application past South Ribble’s planning committee - which duly rejected it for a second time.

In March 2021, the new inquiry was staged, with the inspector who chaired it publishing his decision last June.

Andrew Dawe concluded that the planning committee’s original refusal from 2019 should stand - a decision which will not now be the subject of a judicial review after a High Court judge refused Wainhomes' bid for another legal look at the case.

Wainhomes has been approached for comment.

END OF THE STORY?

The three-year saga surrounding the proposed new estate off Chain House Lane has often hinged on the thorny issue of how many homes South Ribble, Preston and Chorley councils should be ensuring are delivered in their respective areas each year.

As the Post has reported extensively in recent years, the interpretation of national planning policy - and how it is to be applied in the context of longstanding local agreements about how new housing numbers should be distributed across Central Lancashire - has led to wildly different totals being demanded of the three district councils at any given time.

The Chain House Lane application - and its ever-shifting status - has often been seen as key to planning decisions and appeal hearings elsewhere in South Ribble and in neighbouring Preston and Chorley, meaning that the implications of a single proposal for 100 homes in Whitestake have regularly been felt far beyond the borders of the village which so opposed it.

In the wake of the High Court decision not to permit a judicial review of that case - and following a planning inspector’s dismissal earlier this year of an appeal by developers against the refusal of around 550 homes in rural Preston - a settled position finally appears to have been arrived at.

Until Central Lancashire’s first joint local plan - expected to be completed within the next two years - takes effect, Preston, South Ribble and Chorley’s minimum annual new housing needs are set to be calculated via the so-called “standard method” introduced by the government in 2019.

That means Preston will be obliged to deliver at least 254 dwellings per year and South Ribble a minimum of 191 - significantly fewer than 507 and 417, respectively, that was required of each of them under a Central Lancashire-wide agreement dating back to 2012.

Chorley, however, will see its 417 homes-per-year requirement as part of that deal rocket to up to 569 properties. It recently failed in its argument at several planning inquiries that the borough’s annual tally should be slashed to 109 in recognition of the fact that it had exceeded its target for many years in the 2010s as a result of the Buckshaw Village development.

Coupled with the final High Court decision on the Chain House Lane application, that means that a seemingly interminable impasse appears to have been resolved - and Central Lancashire can finally climb down from the dizzying carousel of contradictory and contested housebuilding calculations on which it has been spinning for so long.

Campaigner Jean Berry, pictured after plans for 100 homes in the village of Whitestake were thrown out by a planning inspector last year. Now, a further, final shot at getting them off the drawing board has failed.