The cost of creating a permanent traveller site in Chorley could be pushed above £1m amidst a wrangle between the borough council and a government agency over how to develop the land where it is due to be built.
The potential price tag for the Cowling Farm scheme prompted the family which would move there to appeal to be allowed to stay put in another part of the district.
Chorley Council and Homes England appeared poised to jointly deliver a wider development of housing and commercial units, within which the traveller site would sit.
But the government body has now said it wants to go it alone and press ahead with a planning application solely for its portion of the land. It has also refused to allow access to the traveller site, on land in the council’s control, from its own proposed development of 160 homes.
Chorley Council’s cabinet heard that the Homes England decision left the authority with four options, only two of which were deemed viable - with estimated costs ranging from £920,000 to £1.03m.
Council leader Alistair Bradley said he was “personally frustrated” by Homes England’s change of approach and had written to “put pressure” on the organisation to rethink its position.
“We were working on a joint application, because the [constraints of] the site mean it can’t be treated as separate parts - it’s one entity,” Cllr Bradley said.
“The [cost] is primarily dictated by the fact that we can’t access the traveller site from the Homes England side - what is their motivation for that?”
The authority is committed to creating a traveller site by March 2021 under its local plan.
But for the Linfoot family, who would make their home on the development, the prospect of a delay was entirely predictable.
They have been living on land at Hut Lane in Heath Charnock since 2009. Initially, they were subject to eviction proceedings, but have since been given three time-limited permissions to stay while an alternative location is developed.
“How long are they going to keep putting us through this?” Mike Linfoot asked.
“We don't anticipate being any further on in 12 months’ time, so why don’t they just let us stay where we are? They take land out of the greenbelt everyday when they want to - so why not for us?”
Mr. Linfoot also branded Homes England “discriminatory” for refusing to allow access to the traveller site, which would see the family have to enter and leave their homes via the Moorland Gate Business Park. The Linfoots have also expressed a preference for their pitches not to be placed directly alongside that facility.
Papers presented to cabinet members reveal the extensive groundworks which would be needed to level both sides of the overall site and create a suitable development platform. The two sections of the land are described as being “intrinsically linked”.
“We think Homes England will have some significant issues on their side, just as we do on ours,” Cllr Bradley explained.
“I think they’d expect us to co-operate with them even though they won’t co-operate with us.”
The situation has been further complicated by the results of a feasibility study which concluded that the remainder of the Chorley Council-owned land may not be suitable for the development of commercial and industrial units, as originally planned - meaning that it could instead have to be considered for housing.
The cabinet supported a call by the member for customer and advice, Cllr Adrian Lowe, to ask officers to undertake further work on all the options - even those not deemed viable - after expressing concern over the “significant financial outlay” to the authority.
Homes England said that it was unable to comment on the criticism levelled at the organisation due to the purdah restrictions on public sector communications in the run-up to the general election.