Battle lines drawn up in fight to save greenbelt

Google Maps image: Whittingham Lane, Broughton

Google Maps image: Whittingham Lane, Broughton

A Cheshire planning consultant is putting pressure on Preston Council to accept more greenfield land being permanently lost to the city.

Or, Helen Leggett, of Emery Planning in Macclesfield, is simply pointing out that Preston has delivered a consistent under-supply of new homes and her client is doing the council and the city a favour by agreeing to have farmland built upon with 101 houses.

Leggett’s case seems to be that Preston needs more homes and the council isn’t doing enough to supply them. And there’s lots of new houses being built in and around Broughton so a lot more won’t make a difference.

It could be seen as a classic case of opportunism by a landowner eyeing up a very healthy, and wealthy, return on what is currently pasture and grazing land off Whittingham Lane, close to the M6 motorway.

The applicant is even offering to demolish their house to make an access road onto Whittingham Lane for the new homes.

So, with new housing to the west of them and more housing planned to the north, what’s a homeowner to do? Bring in the ‘experts’ and join the ‘build on the green belt’ party in North Preston, that’s what.

However, Preston Council, through planning director Chris Hayward and Preston rural east councillor Neil Cartwright, is leading the fight against the application and this one-eyed view of the planning system.

What Helen Leggett and Emery Planning conspicuously fail to recognise or consider in their 221-page planning statement is that Preston does have a coherent and buildable new homes plan. It just isn’t on green fields off Whittingham Lane.

The City Living Strategy launched this year is a direct response to the need for intelligent and thoughtful development on brownfield city centre sites, of which Preston has an abundant supply.

All the necessary new homes Preston needs in the next five years can be built in the city centre if developers can be found to share the vision. But, too often, the big housebuilders prefer open, green sites that make for easy building rather than the sometimes more expensive historic building conversions that so enhance a city centre.

Chris Hayward, director of planning, told the Lancashire Post this week: “The council considers that it does have at least five years supply of housing land and therefore its local plan policies are relevant and up-to-date.

“This has been supported by two different planning inspectors at recent appeals on housing applications in rural areas.

“However, we cannot be complacent in ensuring that sufficient houses are built, including affordable houses, but they need to be built in the right places in sustainable locations.

“Therefore the majority need to be built within the urban area and the City Deal is helping to deliver that.”

Coun Neil Cartwright, who represents the area on the city council, also told the Lancashire Post: “What this company [Emery Planning] are saying is wrong.

“I hope the council will robustly defend the fact that we have a five-year supply. Certainly I will be opposing this application tooth and nail.

“It is so contrary to the Local Plan in so many respects. In my opinion it is purely a predatory, speculative application and it has no merits.”

The big issue for Preston is that Leggett, Emery Planning and the landowner will all justify their planning application to build homes on green fields on the basis of the National Planning Framework, the Local Plan, the need for new homes anywhere in Preston – where they could be built, rather than where they really should be built.

As if that somehow makes it alright.

Emery Planning would deserve some respect if they used their planning knowledge to do some good in Preston. But they’ll make their case, lose, then probably win on appeal, take their fee and move on to another controversial application in another town leaving Preston a couple more fields short of a greenbelt.

It’s the same with developers with no ties to Preston or investment in the city through birth, residence, business or leisure; who buy, build and sell on without thinking of the impact their wrong development has on the city for possibly decades to come.

Sure, not every developer or planner or architect can be local; but it does seem to be the local ones who make better, more considered decisions when it comes to deciding what to build and where.

We need to get behind Chris Hayward and Preston Council as they try to implement a visionary housing plan for the city. They’ve got a hell of a battle on their hands and could use our help.

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Neil Thornton

Neil Thornton

Director at Thornton Media
Neil Thornton is an award-winning writer and journalist who is an expert in property, housing, architecture and design.

He has been at the forefront of the UK property scene for 15 years and has been published in major newspapers, magazines and influential websites around the world.
Neil Thornton

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