A developer has been sent back to the drawing board over a vision for up to 2,000 new homes in Penwortham.
Long-mooted plans for the site known as Pickering’s Farm were put before South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee, which rejected them outright.
The authority’s planning officers had recommended that a decision on the so-called “masterplan” for the area be deferred amidst a series of concerns over the joint proposal by Taylor Wimpey and the government housing body Homes England.
However, councillors voted by a majority to refuse the bid – although the effect of their decision is likely to be the same, with a radical rethink required in order to get it past the committee in future.
The borough’s director of planning, Jonathan Noad, told the meeting that the council should be able to expect a “certain level of detail” about a site of the size of complexity of the one under consideration.
However, a report presented to members laid out a litany of concerns of from consultees, which caused the authority to conclude that “significant outstanding issues” had not been resolved in what is now the third version of the masterplan document to have emerged this year.
Taylor Wimpey has also submitted a separate outline planning application for 1,100 homes on that part of the land which is under its control, but that has not yet been put before the committee.
The main point of contention surrounds the completion of the cross-borough link road which would run through the estate from the planned entrance to the development off the A582 Penwortham Way, through to the junction of Bee Lane and Leyland Road. This would then flow into to the recently-completed section of the link route running from The Cawsey through to the A6.
Plans for the crucial connection are a requirement of the submission of any masterplan for the area, but highways bosses at Lancashire County Council were unimpressed by the current proposal.
They concluded that the approach taken in the masterplan risked placing an unviable financial burden on housebuilders who would develop the section of land not owned by Taylor Wimpey, risking the entire road scheme. It was claimed that the masterplan allowed for the completion of a large part of the development before the new road was fully in place.
Criticism was also made of the distinction drawn between a “short-term” option to route traffic via the narrow Bee Lane, because the duration of the arrangement could actually be between 10 and 15 years.
Phil Wooliscroft, a transport adviser to the applicants, said that “careful consideration of measures will control traffic flow throughout the site and on the existing lanes”, suggesting that agreement with County Hall on the plans was just weeks away.
However, Neil Stevens, the authority’s highways development control manager, described some of the claims made by the developer as “misleading”, although he conceded that it was possible to design an appropriate masterplan for the site – but it was “not that which is presented”.
Meanwhile, Network Rail raised concerns over the long-term plans for the route – namely, a new bridge over the West Coast Mainline.
They described the proposals as “insufficiently detailed” and also stated that any new structure would need to be completed before the occupation of the estate, because of the inability of the existing bridges at Bee Lane and Flag Lane to cope with carrying a significant increase in traffic.
After five speeches from local residents – who offered their own detailed take on transport, ecology and viability issues – committee members queued up with their own concerns.
Cllr John Flannery said that he had “never seen so many inconsistencies with a proposal at this level”.
Fellow member Caroline Moon summed up the mood of the meeting when she issued a blunt message to the applicants: “Don’t come back with a masterplan until you can show us [everything] is going to be delivered in its entirety and is not going to be piecemeal, part-done, never actually finished.
“Don’t bring me back a masterplan until the infrastructure – and I mean all of it, long-term, is fully costed and we know exactly where the money is coming and who’s paying for what and when. Don’t bother,” she warned.
Council leader Paul Foster – who is not on the committee, told members that £200m worth of investment was required ahead of the construction of the estate, adding: “I don’t believe this will ever happen.”
Charnock ward councillor Ian Watkinson said the proposals condemned existing residents in the rural area to “living on a building site for the next 20-25 years”.
But planning agent John Sutley said that the applicants “fully understand and respect the comments made by the local community and, where possible, have sought to address the issues raised”, adding that “considerate construction techniques” would be used on the development.
However, the committee was unconvinced by the proposal. Members were split down the middle on whether to defer or refuse the application, but on the casting vote of the chair, Caleb Tomlinson, it was rejected.
Speaking after the meeting, Graham Eastham, from the campaign group Keep Bee Lane Rural, said he was elated by the committee’s decision.
“We are being overwhelmed with messages of support from everyone in the community. We just want to send a special message of thank you to all the councillors who took the time to listen to us and believe in us .
“To Paul Foster and his council for being true to their word and not supporting inappropriate development and flawed masterplans – and a special thank you to the people of Lostock Hall, Penwortham and Farington for being bloody brilliant.”
Taylor Wimpy and Homes England have been approached for comment.
Conservative planning committee member Barrie Yates warned his Labour counterparts that they risked “pre-determining” the application – in violation of planning laws – because of their party’s opposition to development on the site at local elections last year.
“It was part of their manifesto – if they do speak [at the meeting], they could find themselves before a court of law for not declaring an interest,” Cllr Yates claimed.
However, South Ribble’s legal officer Dave Whelan said it was “perfectly okay for any member to be predisposed against an application – the question is whether they have closed their minds to it”.
He added: “Essentially, that’s for individual members to address their minds to that question.”
Preston architect David Cox said that the masterplan "exhibits all of the failings of current English housing policy".
It is a consequence of reliance on volume house builders to provide homes for our families and children. The consequence of this approach is the line of least possible resistance through legislation and guidance to a point of maximum profit at the end.
The end in this case will be an enormous concentration of new units into an existing community. This approach is not a natural or incremental growth which can grow roots into the existing community and become an organic part of the neighbourhoods. It is the imposition of a single mass with some very nominal links through to existing streets."
"More imaginative solutions to how families can live together in large estates have been found and are available as precedents around the country," Mr. Cox added.
What the residents said...
Peter Hambilton, who has lived in the area for 40 years, told the committee: "The flood risk assessment does not take into account the tidal and flood nature of the River Ribble and hence the backing up of the Mill Brook tributary. I see it every winter; River Ribble high water, Mill Brook cannot empty, water backs up, ditches and culverts spill out into saturated fields causing ponding and widespread flooding of the land and roads."
Carolyn Kay rubbished plans to relocate an orchard that is at least 127 years old.
"This masterplan now states that it will either be retained in situ or replaced on a single site elsewhere. This could be within the masterplan area or on other suitable land outside
of the area under the control of the developers.
"This is a nonsense! Ancient orchards cannot simply be dug up and relocated."
The tree root systems are far too deep and established for that to happen. This ancient habitat should be protected and restored for generations to come," Ms. Kay said.
...on the principle of the development
Graham Eastham reflected on the history of the area.
"Pickering’s Farm is 272 acres of ancient farmland that sits between the two communities of Penwortham and Lostock Hall. It was identified as a possible location for housing as early as the 1970’s, but has remained undeveloped to this day due to a unique set of circumstances and conditions that make access and development very difficult.
"With huge sites already being completed in the locality, Lancashire County Council highways [department is] already questioning how sustainable and hence how suitable this site now is."