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Hundreds of homes set for mill site among most forgotten parts of Preston city centre

Posted on - 3rd December, 2023 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Avenham, Housing, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News
Horrocks Mill From the air - after development
Horrocks Mill From the air – after development

Hundreds of new homes are set to spring up on the one-time site of a cotton mill on the edge of Preston city centre – almost 60 years after the majority of the plot was cleared for redevelopment.

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Preston City Council has given the go-ahead to plans to build up to 380 dwellings – a mix of townhouses and apartments – on land that was occupied by the Horrocks Yard Works until most of the buildings associated with the late 18th-century factory were flattened in 1965.

The prime location – which sits alongside the Queens Retail Park and is bounded by Queen Street, Church Street and Grimshaw Street – has been the subject of a slew of unfulfilled proposals for shops, offices and housing down the decades.

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However, a meeting of the city council’s planning committee heard that the latest of the developers with a vision for the site – Onward Homes – was “serious” about making theirs a reality.

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Committee chair Cllr Javed Iqbal described the area as “the most neglected…in the town centre” – and asked how committed the registered housing provider was to the blueprint that it had drawn up.

Indicative image of housing (image: DK-Architects via Preston City Council planning portal)
Indicative image of housing (image: DK-Architects via Preston City Council planning portal)

Peter Tooher, the agent for the application, said that Onward had already allocated “a significant amount of resources to bring this scheme forward”.

He told members that the organisation was contracted to buy the site if planning permission were granted, adding that, “with a fair wind”, he would expect work to begin at some point in 2025, following the process of drawing up detailed designs. Those details will themselves have to be given further approval by the town hall once they are finalised.

The space has been used as a temporary car park and storage facility in recent years, but under the outline permission now unanimously granted by the city council’s planning committee, that will make way for the new residential properties – as well as the potential for some retail space, which would be confirmed at a later date.

The committee heard that Onward had successfully argued that its proposed scheme would not be financially viable should it have to make the social and infrastructure contributions that Preston’s planning policies would usually demand.

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In the case of the Horrocks Mill site, that would have included a payment of up to £4.3m towards the school places that could be generated by the development, as well as a stipulation that at least 30 percent of the properties be classed as affordable.

Onward’s viability claims were assessed on behalf of the council, which subsequently accepted them, but it seems that affordable dwellings may nevertheless lie at the heart of the development – even if they are not formally required.

In a post on the site formerly known as Twitter, 24 hours after the committee meeting, Onward said that it looked forward “to further improving the quality and choice of affordable housing in this great northern city”.

At the meeting, Mr. Tooher said that the scheme “will accommodate a range of homes accessible to the local community, [which] will cater for a range of needs – from single-person households to larger families”.

Committee member David Borrow – until recently also the cabinet member for planning – appeared to shine further light on the intentions for the site.  He suggested that, having been involved in discussions in his cabinet role, the development was one of “housing which we would hope would be social or affordable housing – and would provide a big boost to affordable living within the city centre”.

However, his committee colleague Jennifer Mein stated that it was “very disappointing” that the requested school place contribution was not being fulfilled.

The 2.5-hectare area to be redeveloped – on the eastern fringe of the city centre – includes a parcel of land next to Cotton Court Business Centre, off Church Street, which is also currently being used for car parking.

Horrocks Mill site from the air - current
Horrocks Mill site from the air – current

It sits within the wider Stoneygate area, which is the subject of a regeneration plan designed to boost city centre living, and is in close proximity to the redevelopment of another former mill site – Dryden Mills – which was approved in the spring.  That scheme will create 469 apartment properties within a development which rises to 16 storeys at its highest point.

What will it look like?

The Horrocks Mill development will, according to planning documents, include:

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  • eight apartment blocks of varying heights, ranging from up to two storeys on the Cotton Court site to a maximum of 10 storeys facing Queen Street, next to to the retail park;
  • four-storey townhouses;
  • a central spine road, along with a shared footway and cycleway running through the site,  providing connections between Queen Street, Church Street and the retail park;
  • vehicular access to the main site from a new junction on Queen Street, with a second access on Grimshaw Street to serve some of the residential properties;
  • both vehicular and pedestrian access to the Cotton Court element of the site from Church Street, as currently.
  • so-called “soft landscaping”.

‘Heritage harm outweighed by benefits?’

Preston City Council planners had to consider the potential impact of the development on nearby Grade II-listed buildings – namely, the closed Grimshaw Street School, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, also on Grimshaw Street, and the Blue Bell pub, on Church Street.

Planning case officer James Mercer told councillors that it was “acknowledged that the proposal would result in some visual harm to the setting” of those heritage features.

However, he added:  “Given that the scheme involves no harm or loss of fabric to any of these designated assets – and the issues are confined to setting only – the harm is considered to be at the low end of less-than-substantial.

“It has been established that this harm is outweighed by the public benefits of the proposal,” Mr. Mercer added.

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