Plans to build more than 200 homes on part of the Botany Bay site in Chorley have been scrapped in favour of an industrial development that it is claimed will create almost 400 permanent jobs.Advertisement
Chorley Council’s planning committee has given the go-ahead to the employment scheme, which will see 69 units created on the hill alongside the historic mill building to accommodate businesses in need of manufacturing, storage, office and research and development space.
The £100m project marks the second phase in the redevelopment of the wider area, off Blackburn Road, by Chorley-based FI Real Estate Management (FIREM). The first stage of that work is well underway with the construction of the adjoining Botany Bay Business Park.
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The overall site is allocated in Chorley’s local plan for a mixture of housing and employment development – and permission was granted little more than two years ago for 233 homes on the portion of the plot where the new industrial units will now stand.
Adele Hayes, Chorley Council’s head of planning and enforcement, told committee members that in spite of the rethink there had been over that section of land, there was still “capacity” for housing to be delivered elsewhere at the broader location.
The proposal attracted more than 120 objections from members of the public, with concerns including its potential impact on the local road network and a claimed harm to the appearance and character of the area.
Wheelton resident Keith Molloy – speaking on behalf of a group of locals – told the committee that a reference in the council planning officer’s report to the density of the development reducing the need to release land elsewhere in the borough for similar purposes had angered those living in the vicinity.
“To suggest that this important and much-valued local site should be a sacrificial lamb to protect sites elsewhere from further employment development pressure is completely unacceptable and has created significant upset in our local community,” Mr. Molloy said.
However, Ms. Hayes rejected a suggestion that the authority considered the proposal to represent the “over-development” of the plot, while planning case officer Iain Crossland said that the layout was “relatively dense” which would make “efficient use” of the site.
Speaking as the ward councillor for Chorley North and Astley. Adrian Lowe – who sits on the planning committee but otherwise recused himself from the debate and vote on the application – said he objected to the blueprint and noted the “chequered planning history” of the site.
He highlighted particular concerns over the roads, stating: “Residents [of the Hartwood estate] take their lives in their own hands on a daily basis trying to exit [onto the main road] and heaven help [us] if there was need for an emergency vehicle to use the estate.
“So-called signalised improvements, queue detectors and ‘keep clear’ signs have never been the answer, in my opinion,” said Cllr Lowe in reference to the proposed traffic mitigation measures that would be needed should the development go ahead.
Those highway upgrades – at a series of junctions across the wider area – mirror the ones that were put in place for previous planning applications for the site and will once again be secured via a condition attached to the new permission. The committee was told that the applicant had also agreed to make a contribution to public transport improvements, but the amount was yet to be decided and would be delegated to the head of planning and the committee chair and vice-chair for approval at a later date.
Meanwhile, the speed limit on the A674, from which the site will be accessed, is to be reduced to 40mph through to the A6.
While a representative of FIREM did not address the meeting, business website editor Chris Maguire – who has done some consultancy work for the firm – spoke in support of the company’s plans.
He said that having recently hosted “roundtable” discussions for businesses across Chorley and South Ribble, he was well aware of the demand for the facilities proposed.
“Other than the difficulties with recruitment, the biggest challenge identified relates to the lack of suitable premises,” Mr. Maguire commented.
Committee member Sarah Ainsworth said that while “we want to encourage people to live in Chorley…we also want to encourage people to bring business to Chorley…and having a site like this will [do so]”.
It is estimated by FIREM that 392 full-time-equivalent jobs will be generated by the development, along with 163 temporary construction roles.
Sixteen individual blocks will make up the development, offering a range of unit sizes to support both small business start-ups and bigger, established operations. However, there would be a greater number of small and medium-sized units than large ones.
Committee member Karen Derbyshire said that concerns over the loss of outlook for residents as a result of the development did not reflect reality.
“I look out of my back window and I see flats; I look out of my front window, I see houses – as I think the vast majority of people in Chorley do.
“As for a ‘visual amenity’, we’re talking about Ideal Home examples of actual living. There are still going to be lots of fields around, just not that particular field,” Cllr Derbyshire said.
Cabinet member for planning Alistair Morwood added that while he did not believe there was “an argument” that a development like the one proposed was needed, “it would be good if it [also] looked good”.
He said that people who use the public right of way running through what is currently agricultural land would probably disagree with the assessment of the site as one of “low landscape value”.
After almost an hour of presentations and debate, the proposal was approved by the committee on a majority of nine votes to two.
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