'Evidence needed' to reject planning applications over traffic issues, committee hears

Traffic issues often prove contentious in planning decisions
Traffic issues often prove contentious in planning decisions

The committee which makes planning decisions in Chorley should be able to seek independent advice before it blocks applications on traffic grounds, one of its members has said.

Martin Boardman made the call at a meeting of the borough’s development control committee, which heard that Chorley Council had to pay £16,000 in costs after its decision to refuse permission for a new GP surgery was overturned by a planning inspector.

“If we come to a decision, we need the evidence to back it up - without it, then in theory, it is just a lay person’s decision,” Cllr Boardman said.

“I would like to see council taxpayer’s money being spent on something which defends the residents [over] these traffic...issues that we seem to rally against on most applications.”

The application - to convert offices on St. Thomas’s Road into a medical centre - was rejected by the cross-party party group last April, against the advice of the council’s own planning officers.

Lancashire County Council - which makes recommendations to district authorities about the potential impact of planning applications on the road network - concluded that the development was acceptable if changes were made to local parking restrictions.

That would have required a special planning agreement between Chorley Council and the applicant to fund the necessary work - but members heard that the authority was not in a position to enforce that arrangement now that the matter had gone to appeal.

Planning services manager, Adele Hayes, said that the independent planning inspector in the case had “made great play of the fact that there was no evidence” to support the committee’s conclusions about the impact of additional traffic in the area.

“Without undermining the opinion that the county council puts before you [for consideration], members can, quite rightly, come to an alternative viewpoint,” she added.

“But in the absence of expert opinion, we are then exposed to a potential award of costs if we haven’t got the evidence to support that viewpoint.”

Committee member Alan Whittaker warned that the involvement of a third party in the decision-making process risked “affecting the independence of this committee in determining what is right for our residents”.

“You’ll never get the wisdom of Solomon in these things. That’s why we have to look at the assessments and come to our own conclusion,” Cllr Whittaker said.

But fellow member, Paul Walmsley, suggested councillors should avoid making a stand for the sake of it, if they believed their decision would fall down at a later stage in the planning process.

“There are always decisions that can go either way - and, on appeal, we might win some, we might lose some. But we need to be mindful that if something is clear cut [in favour of an application], we should not be [refusing] it,” Cllr Walmsley said.

The matter will be brought back to a future meeting, but would need the approval of full council before any change to the process could be made.