'We can't build another Buckshaw': plea to let Chorley off the government's planning 'naughty step'

Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley has long argued the borough should be considered a special case when it comes to housing numbersChorley Council leader Alistair Bradley has long argued the borough should be considered a special case when it comes to housing numbers
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley has long argued the borough should be considered a special case when it comes to housing numbers
The leader of Chorley Council has appealed to the government to recognise that the borough does not have the space to build “another Buckshaw Village” - and remove the authority from a blacklist which restricts its planning powers.

Alistair Bradley was speaking after the only other council to be sanctioned at the same time as Chorley had its so-called “designation” status lifted.

Tory-controlled Fareham Council - like Labour-run Chorley - was singled out by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, in December for having too many of its planning decisions overturned on appeal.

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The move to designate the pair meant that developers wanting to build in those areas were given the option of bypassing the councils altogether and taking their applications for new homes directly to the Planning Inspectorate – the very organisation that hears the appeals which Chorley and Fareham were deemed by the government to have lost too often.

Fareham was recently released from that special measures category having provided what Mr. Gove described as “evidence of sufficient improvement”.

However, Cllr Bradley told the Lancashire Post that Chorley’s “unique circumstances” meant that it was not in position to free itself from designation without government support.

Those circumstances revolve around the fact that Chorley has been on the wrong end of a series of appeal decisions after planning inspectors rejected the district’s argument that it should be allowed to build fewer houses than its minimum target.

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The council had contended that the annual tally expected of it for the remaining period covered by its local plan, through to 2026, should be reduced - in recognition of the degree to which it had been exceeded in the first half of the 2010s. That was as result of housebuilding spikes caused creation of the 3,000 dwellings that make up the part of Buckshaw Village built in Chorley Council’s patch over the past two decades.

However, the inspectors' rulings mean Chorley's targets will not now be reset until a new local plan for the whole of Central Lancashire - the first of its kind - comes into force in summer 2025. Cllr Bradley said he does not want the borough to have to wait that long to regain full planning control.

He welcomed a commitment by the government to work with Chorley to see the borough taken out of designation, but stressed: “We cannot unilaterally take steps that will [achieve that].

“There has to be some consideration given by the government to Chorley’s unique situation - that being the delivery of Buckshaw Village. We haven't got another Buckshaw Village [which could be built to boost housing numbers],” Cllr Badley said.

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However, he told the Post that in spite of developers currently having the option to lock Chorley Council out of the decision-making process for their housebuilding plans in the borough, most were still choosing to follow the traditional planning application route through the town hall.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said of Chorley’s ongoing sanction: “Strong local decision-making lies at the heart of the planning system.

“Where needed, the government will designate local authorities and provide support to improve their performance to ensure that all communities can benefit from a reliable, fair and efficient planning system.

“The government will continue to work with Chorley to ensure that the designation can be lifted as soon as possible.”

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Chorley Council argued at several planning appeals where its refusal of permission for new estates was overturned that it should be expected to build only 109 new homes a year until 2026.

However, planning inspectors concluded that the authority should be held to the figure arrived at under what is known as the “standard method” of calculating housing numbers.

That pushed Chorley’s annual new housing need skywards to 569 dwellings – and, in a double whammy, also rendered it unable to show that it had a five-year supply of land available to meet such a target, as required by government rules.

The result of that scenario is that council has since been obliged to approve development even on “safeguarded land” – plots that are supposed to be protected for the duration of the existing local plan timeframe – unless the harm caused by doing so “significantly and demonstrably outweighed the benefits” of meeting its deemed housing needs.

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