Chorley Council wants residents to retain right to object to all housebuilding applications

Chorley Council has called on the government to “protect the rights” of communities to object to individual planning applications.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 8:43 pm
Updated Monday, 2nd August 2021, 8:58 pm

It comes in the face of sweeping reforms to the planning system being proposed by ministers.

There was cross-party consensus at recent meeting of the authority about the importance of residents retaining the ability to have a say on housebuilding proposals in their area – but some political disagreement over the best way to achieve it.

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Automatic permission for residential development could be granted in areas identified for “growth” under changes that will form part of the forthcoming planning bill to go before Parliament.

The proposed legislation – which featured in the Queen’s Speech back in May – would yield outline approval for housebuilding in locations deemed suitable for “substantial development”.

That would bring an end to detailed case-by-case consideration of applications by local officials and councillors in such areas – although they would still have to be assessed against locally drawn-up design codes and masterplans dictating the exact nature of the development to be permitted.

It would also mean that locals would lose their say at the point that specific building proposals were brought forward.

Instead, land in a local authority area would be split into three categories when councils create their local plans, the documents which guide development in their patch over the long-term.

As is currently the case, residents would be asked for their opinions about proposed plots for housebuilding at that stage – but under the suggested reforms, their chance to comment would be concentrated at the point where development was a theoretical possibility rather than an impending reality.

Land that did not fall into the “growth” category would either be classified as an area of “renewal” – in which some “high-quality” development would be allowed under a similar fast-track system, while the remainder would be subject to the current planning process – or a “protected” area, such as greenbelt and national parks, where current restrictions on building would continue.

The government said when launching a public consultation into its plans last year that the proposals would lead to a “clearer, rules-based system” and enable “much-needed homes [to] be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current seven years it often takes”.

During a debate on a notice of motion put forward by the ruling Labour group at Chorley Council members of the controlling party lined up to call for the current system to be retained.

Deputy leader Peter Wilson told the meeting: “You should have the right as an individual citizen to make representations and make your objections – that’s what’s being taken away at the minute by [the proposed planning reforms].”

Adlington and Anderton ward councillor Kim Snape said that “all hell would break loose” if residents in her area were told that they could not object to individual applications.

However deputy leader of the Conservative opposition Debra Platt said that the present arrangement “clearly doesn’t work in parts and certainly does not benefit the people of this borough”.

Citing the challenges brought against Chorley’s current local plan by “large national residential property developers, hell bent on urbanising many rural villages and building…too early on our safeguarded land”, Cllr Platt backed the planning overhaul set in train by the government.

“These areas and zones are defined by…this council and our communities at the plan-making stage. The bill does not take away the rights of local people and communities, it brings them in at a much earlier stage, so they can help shape their own areas and project what is important to them.

“Who would not want to see [protection of] the green belt by prioritising building new homes on brownfield land? Who would not want to see cities and redundant commercial sites [being used for] the majority of new home-building and…a planning system which makes it easier for vacant plots and under-used land to be developed for housing?” Cllr Platt asked.

Councillors eventually agreed on a slightly reworded motion that called on the government to “empower local communities to work in partnership with their local councils to generate a new local plan that provides more certainty over the type, scale and design of development”.

Meanwhile, Eccleston, Heskin and Charnock Richard ward councillor Alan Whittaker warned that planning was “not an exact science” – and so would always require “debates [and] discussion”.

Chorley, Preston and South Ribble councils are currently working on a local plan for the three districts, which is expected to be in force by the end of 2023.

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