Redrow Homes has launched informal consultations with locals in Eccleston and Whittle-le-Woods ahead of submitting formal applications for planning permission.
However, the move has been greeted with dismay by councillors representing the two areas - both because of the timing of the process and the proposed locations.
The firm wants to build up to 250 homes off Town Lane in Whittle-le-Woods and 80 properties off Tincklers Lane in Eccleston.
Both of the sites are classified as so-called “safeguarded” land - meaning that they are intended to be released for development in the longer-term, but would ordinarily be protected during the period covered by the borough’s current local plan.
However, that status is dependent on a council being able to prove that it has a five-year supply of land allocated to meet its annual minimum housebuilding tally.
Following a recent judgement by a planning inspector over a controversial development elsewhere in Eccleston, Chorley’s yearly construction target has more than doubled to 569 properties - leaving it short of potential sites.
That has raised the prospect of the two plots alighted upon by Redrow being developed sooner than was ever expected - much to the annoyance of local representatives.
“The builders are now just going round looking at all these different areas of borough - they think they’d better get on with it, because Chorley has to build all these homes,” said Chisnall ward councillor Alan Whittaker.
“But we have actually built more than Preston and South Ribble put together in some years.
“I also dislike this idea of developers sending leaflets out to people for their own private consultations when there hasn’t even been a planning application made yet.
“When there is, there’d be a council-run consultation. I think this is designed to neuter the opposition and make people think that they’ll get permission come what may.”
Cllr Whittaker, who is also a member of Chorley Council’s planning committee, added: “Of course, I would not take part in the debate should the matter come before the committee, as my views are very clear. My replacement would make their own decision.”
Redrow says that the proposed Eccleston estate would include a 30 percent quota of homes classed as affordable for local people, while existing trees and hedgerows would be maintained “wherever possible”
However, one Eccleston resident claims that plans to build on plots not yet intended for development risk the very fabric of places like Chorley.
“This is nothing to do with houses that are needed in the borough - it’s part of a general national picture where you are seeing applications based on questionable calculations about housing need,” said Geoff Bury.
“There is plenty of housing in Eccleston and the surrounding area to meet all needs. And you only have to drive from here towards Preston to see the unimaginable scale of development in this area.
“We’re not going to have villages here any more the way things are going - we will get to that point,” Mr. Bury warned.
Meanwhile, Clayton and Whittle ward councillor Mark Clifford also condemned the fact that Redrow’s consultation for the proposed Town Lane estate will start and end during the current national lockdown - preventing prospective, collective mobilisation against the plans by any locals minded to oppose them.
“This is a deliberate attempt to avoid public scrutiny and engage properly with the community. I ask all residents of Whittle-le-Woods to make their views known to Redrow and say enough is enough, no more housing.
“These houses are not needed or wanted and this highly speculative plan is the result of the government’s flawed policy that Chorley must build more homes,” Cllr Clifford added.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Chorley Council has co-operated with neighbouring authorities in Preston and South Ribble over housebuilding targets for the past eight years.
Back in April, the trio agreed a new “memorandum of understanding” (MOU), under which the total number of properties to be built annually in each district is pooled across Central Lancashire - and then redistributed between the three councils according to their local circumstances.
The figures are based on the so-called “standard method” for calculating minimum housing need.
Before redistribution, Chorley would have been obliged to build 569 dwellings per year - 56 percent of the sub-regional total, in spite of being the borough with the most greenbelt out of the three areas.
Under the MOU, that figure dropped to 278 - with Preston and Chorley taking greater shares because of their housebuilding commitments under the City Deal.
However, in August, Chorley Council lost an appeal against its decision to refuse a bid to build 180 homes on Pear Tree Lane in Eccleston.
Crucially, in his judgement on the matter, a planning inspector concluded that the MOU should be afforded “limited weight” in planning decisions until it is tested in public in the coming years as part of the ongoing process to draw up a joint local plan across Central Lancashire.
That decision effectively renders the MOU meaningless. Preston officially withdrew from the arrangement last week and Chorley is now once again facing the prospect of having to build 569 properties each year.
Under planning legislation, local authorities have to be able to demonstrate that they have five years’ worth of land allocated to fulfil their annual housebuilding numbers - something which Chorley is unable to achieve in the face of the higher, non-redistributed target.
That means the authority has to approve applications for housing - even on land which has not been earmarked for development - unless it concludes that the adverse impacts of any proposals would “significantly outweigh” their benefits.
It leaves safeguarded sites like those in Eccleston and Whittle, which are subject to Redrow’s proposals, vulnerable to being built upon.
The situation could deteriorate yet further for Chorley under a proposed revision to the standard method, which would incorporate existing housing stock into the calculations.
That would leave the borough with an annual minimum housing need of 771 dwellings - almost three times higher than under the MOU.
The Pear Tree Lane appeal prompted Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley to write to the government last month calling for communities secretary Robert Jenrick to intervene and reconsider a decision that effectively “[opens] up the whole of the borough to development”.
“We are not against development, but it has got to be done in the right place at the right time,” he wrote.
“Otherwise, we risk piecemeal development that puts a huge strain on already stretched public services, does not allow infrastructure to keep up and diminishes the quality of life for our residents which is hugely important to them.”
WHAT REDROW SAYS
Robin Buckley, planning director at Redrow Lancashire, said: “We are committed to ensuring the local community has the opportunity to view, discuss and comment on our proposals for new homes in Whittle-le-Woods and Eccleston.
“At a time when face-to-face consultation isn’t possible, the consultations for the developments on Town Lane and Tincklers Lane were adapted to be entirely online and all responses can be received through our dedicated consultation websites.
“Last week, we distributed roughly 430 leaflets [across both areas], guiding local homes and businesses to the dedicated websites, where they can provide feedback and comments.
“Once the consultation period is over, any feedback will be taken into account prior to the submission of formal planning applications, at which point local people will have a second opportunity to respond.
“The government has indicated that the housing market should continue to operate despite Covid-19, therefore it is crucial that consultations are still organised so the planning process can keep moving. Our proposals will help to remedy a shortfall in the housing land supply in Chorley and provide much-needed affordable housing,” Mr. Buckley added.
HAVE YOUR SAY ON REDROW’S PLANS
The consultation for Tincklers Lane in Eccleston is open until 19th November at:
The consultation for Town Lane in Whittle-le-Woods is open until 20th November at: