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South Ribble Borough Council won’t contest Hutton dog school appeal

Posted on - 18th July, 2023 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, Penwortham, Preston News, South Ribble News
The current property at Gables Farm which is due to be converted Pic: Google

Controversial plans to open a dog agility school in a South Ribble village have bounded a step closer after the borough council opted not to contest a planning appeal at which an inspector will have the final say on the matter.

It is almost 12 months since established business Wild Paws Agility – currently based in Clayton-le-Woods – made a bid to move to a new home in Hutton.

However, the proposed replacement facility – at the former Gables Farm livery stables on Lindle Lane – left locals fearing that their lives would be made a misery by barking.

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One told a meeting of South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee – when it first considered the application in February – that the noise generated even by single canine being schooled at the site could be akin to “a jackhammer”. Another claimed that the only likely respite for residents would be when the facilities had closed for the day and it was time for people living nearby to go to bed.

However Wild Paws’ founder – and Crufts agility winner – Nicola Wildman claimed that none of the disciplines she teaches as part of her work would encourage barking. With the emphasis being on canine education, councillors were told that the opposite was actually true – because dogs were being taught to focus on and obey their owners.

Against the backdrop of residents’ discontent with the plans – including over the vexed issue of opening hours, which the applicant had reduced from her initial proposal – committee members decided to defer their decision in the hope that both sides could reach a compromise that enabled them to exist cheek by jowl.

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Councillors were due to discuss the application again a month later, but before they could do so, Ms. Wildman announced that she would be exercising her right to ask the Planning Inspectorate to determine the matter – because the council had far exceeded the eight-week time limit within which it was obliged to make a decision.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) at the time that she had been prompted to do so by a proposed condition that would have seen any permission granted only on a temporary basis – so that a reassessment could take place after a year of operation to see whether residents’ fears had been realised.

However, a quirk of the planning system means that the inspector who will now decide whether to approve or reject the proposal outright must be told what the decision of the South Ribble committee would have been – had it still had the power to make it.

The borough’s planning officers recommended that councillors conclude that they would have given the go-ahead to the plans – subject to a raft of conditions – and so for the council not to contest the appeal.

Case officer Debbie Roberts said at the latest committee meeting that the authority had suggested a “reasonable compromise” over the operating hours for the venture and that the issue of noise from the site had been assessed and “considered acceptable by two separate environmental health senior officers”.

Papers presented to the meeting noted that the council had not considered it worthwhile to facilitate a meeting between residents and the applicant following the February committee, because the latter’s response “clearly signalled that there was no prospect of residents’ concerns being resolved” at any such gathering.

Committee member Will Adams said that he would have now backed approval had the matter still been South Ribble’s hands – because the ability to impose conditions gave him and his colleagues “greater power” to control the functioning of the business than by rejecting it and risking their decision being overturned on appeal.

Cllr Kath Unsworth said she had taken up an invite to observe a Wild Paws session at its existing base and she had heard “no noise” during her time there.

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However, several other committee members condemned the firm for, in their view, failing to engage with its potential new neighbours.

Cllr Peter Mullineaux said that he had been hoping for “a good compromise”, but believed that the applicant was not “interested in doing anything except getting all that they want”.

His colleague Cllr Mary Green added that it did not “gel well” with her that there had not been “any effort whatsoever to discuss [matters] with residents, or at least appease the people who live nearby”.

Nicola Wildman told the LDRS in March that her attempts to consult with locals had been rebuffed, something which a community spokesperson denied.

The committee voted by a majority not to contest the appeal and it also set out a list of proposed conditions for the development, should permission ultimately be granted by the inspector – although they will not be obliged to impose them.

These include opening hours of 8am until 9pm on weekdays and 8am to 7pm at weekends and on bank holidays. Any permission would expire after 15 months unless otherwise agreed with the authority, in order to allow it to “assess the impact” of the business before granting it permanent permission.

Nicola Wildman was approached for comment following the committee’s decision, while the planning inspector will make their decision at a later date.

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