FEARS that areas of West Lancs green land could be at the mercy of housing developers have been sparked following a landmark appeal.
Councillors believe builders could capitalise on a shift in the balance of power towards development over the next few months.
The situation has arisen through a complicated set of factors surrounding the emerging Local Plan – the council’s blueprint for development over the next 15 years.
What do you think of the loophole which could allow hundreds of homes on West Lancs Greenbelt? Let us know in our reader response form below.
The Local Plan currently holds little weight until it is approved by the planning inspectorate.
But, it is not expected to be signed off until July at the earliest and could be delayed if the inspector has concerns over its policies.
And because the council cannot demonstrate a five-year housing supply until the plan is signed off, the National Planning Policy Framework – which favours sustainable development – states that the council’s current housing policies can not be considered up-to-date.
This effectively exposes greenfield land across the borough protected under certain current policies to being built on – with the council at risk of being exposed to “significant” costs if it attempts to defend refusals to grant permission to developers on appeal.
The window of opportunity will close when the plan is adopted –when the balance of power will swing back in the council’s favour.
But until then, if the council refuses permission for a development, so long as an appeal would take place before the plan is approved the power remains with developers. At a meeting of the planning committee last week, Cllr Paul Blane said: “If I was a developer sitting on any parcel of land right now I would think fantastic. We have the authority to grant [planning] permission being taken away from the council and a Government inspector making that decision for us.”
Last week the council followed officers’ advice in not seeking to defend an appeal by Redrow over plans for 115 homes in Banks on protected land. The developer appealed on grounds of non-determination after the council failed to consider it within a 13-week period. In doing so it preventing the planning committee from considering the matter and crucially denied it the option of deferral – which could have delayed any appeal date until after the plan was signed off. Borough planner John Harrison moved to allay concerns there were a series of other applications that could go down the same route. But Cllr David Westley urged the council to prioritise any other major applications to ensure other developers could not appeal on similar grounds to Redrow – adding there were at least three he was aware of in the pipeline.