A government decision over whether to give the go-ahead to controversial plans to build 1,100 homes in rural Penwortham has been delayed until the autumn.Advertisement
The hold-up is the latest twist in the long-running attempt by developer Taylor Wimpey and housing and regeneration agency Homes England to be granted planning permission for the development on a site known locally as Pickering’s Farm.
The bid to build the sprawling estate which is to be known as The Lanes – in the Bee Lane area of Penwortham – has twice been rejected by South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee. The authority’s most recent refusal in November 2021 centred on the capacity of the road network in the area to cope with the resultant increase in traffic.
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The joint applicants appealed against that decision, leading to a three-week public inquiry last August, at which the issue of highways once again dominated the debate about the suitability of the plot for such a significant proposal.
Ordinarily, the inspector chairing that hearing, Patrick Hanna would have made the final decision about whether or not to uphold the council’s refusal of planning permission or reverse it.
However, as the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed last summer, the government opted to take the rare step of “recovering” the appeal, meaning that the Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove will get the ultimate say. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said that it had intervened in the process because the development would “significantly impact” the government’s aim to “create high quality, sustainable, mixed and inclusive communities”.
Mr Gove’s decision had been expected earlier this year, but a meeting of South Ribble Borough Council last week heard that it had now been put back until 18th September – or sometime shortly beforehand.
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The delay has prompted a furious reaction from the authority’s leader, Paul Foster, who has long opposed the Pickering’s Farm plans on the basis that the site should not be developed unless and until stalled plans to turn the A582 between Lostock Hall and Penwortham into a dual carriageway are fulfilled.
Speaking to the LDRS, he said that he could only come to one conclusion as to why the decision had once again been deferred.
“The overwhelming view locally is that the planning inspector is clearly going to follow the decision of the planning committee, because it’s based upon absolutely sound planning legislation.
“But the [inspectorate] won’t release their report, which was finished some six months ago, because it’s with the Secretary of State.
“Our understanding of the situation is that because the inspector has supported our position on this, the government is looking – particularly with the highways issue – for a route through, for some bizarre reason, to try and approve these applications. That is just wholly undemocratic and unfair.
“But we’re ready for it, because if the Secretary of State goes against planning legislation, we will take it to judicial review – and we’ve already taken counsel advice on this.
“The only possible reason for delay is because the government is trying to fudge together some form of approval – and we will not accept that if that is the outcome,” Cllr Foster warned.
Residents’ group Keep Bee Lane Rural told last year’s public inquiry that those living in the vicinity of the proposed development were becoming “ill through stress and sleepless nights” at the prospect of being in the midst of a building site for the next 15 years.
The DLUHC told the LDRS that it would not be appropriate for it to comment at this stage.
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