Controversial plans for a new £10m shopping centre in Eccleston have taken a dramatic twist.
Chorley Council, which sensationally rejected the application from developer Northern Trust to transform the Carrington Centre in September, has revealed it won’t be offering any defence at February’s planning appeal.
It removes a key obtstacle to the multi-million pound scheme going ahead – although residents opposed to the plan can still make representations at the inquiry.
Chorley Council was required to file papers with the planning inspectorate on Friday and has done so indicating its intention not to defend the appeal.
After consulting with cabinet members and officers, including legal advice from the monitoring officer, it was concluded that the grounds for refusal were not sustainable and that to defend the original decision could cost local council taxpayers up to £200,000 in legal bills.
Four consultants were approached to represent the council at the forthcoming public inquiry and all declined to defend the council’s reason for refusal.
Coun Peter Goldsworthy, leader of Chorley Council, said: “This decision has not been taken lightly. Given the evidence that we were likely to lose the appeal and hence waste huge sums of council taxpayers’ money the decision was taken not to defend.”
The council will still be required to attend the inquiry but the authority will be making it clear that the grounds for the appeal are not being contested.
The decision on whether to allow the appeal will be made by a government-appointed planning inspector who will make a decision based on the evidence before him and residents against the proposal will have a chance to have their say.
The plans involve demolishing the existing Carrington Centre, which is an old mill building consisting of independently-run shops, a post office, chemist, library, and Co-Op.
It is set to be replaced with a more modern shopping development, which would incorporate the existing amenities and allow present tenants to renew their leases.
Developers also want to build a new supermarket and create a housing development of up to 40 dwellings on land at the back of the centre
Northern Trust’s application split the council Development Control committee 8-5 when they met in September.
Council planning officers had recommended the ambitious plans be approved but, in an unexpected move, eight members of committee voted against the planning application. The application has also split opinion in Eccleston with some existing traders at the Carrington Centre saying it’s much-needed but some residents claiming it will destroy the village.
Campaigners, who formed the protest group ‘EC3’, couldn’t be contacted by the Guardian on Tuesday before we went to print.
However the leader of the campaign, Martin Fisher, said in September: “We are not opposed to having a new development in Eccleston, but it must be suitable for our village, and this was not.
“The big problem was the housing development -we felt it was a step too far.”
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