Lancashire County Council’s development control committee refused an application for retrospective approval to deposit around 3,500 cubic metres of material to stabilise the land surrounding the 10-dwelling site off Old Road in Chatburn.
Papers presented to a recent virtual meeting of the committee revealed that a so-called “priority habitat” of lowland calcareous grassland had been lost in the process.
The inert matter was imported over an 18-month period between 2016 and 2018 into an area beyond the borders of the plot for which planning permission for housing had been secured from Ribble Valley Borough Council.
That move prompted the county council, as the local minerals authority, to issue an enforcement notice ordering the restoration of the site to its previous condition.
The developer, Ronald Jackson, has already appealed the demand – but his bid for retrospective permission attempted to nullify it by offering up a larger area of nearby land on which the habitat could be recreated and maintained for 25 years.
However, committee members were largely unimpressed, with one of their number branding it “a really cynical use of the planning system”.
“The developer knew from the start that the site was going to need considerable works to accommodate their original application for housing,” said County Cllr Cosima Towneley.
“[Supporting this] simply encourages developers to get away with works not allowed [as part of] their applications.”
Fellow committee member David Foxcroft said that he was disgusted by the “sorry situation”.
“The developer has been allowed to absolutely ride roughshod over the quality of the land and take away its natural value without any recourse,” said County Cllr Foxcroft, adding that he feared restoration of the land might not be viable.
County Hall planning bosses recommended approval of the mitigation proposal after they also acknowledged the difficulty of recreating the grassland feature in its original location.
“These tipping works have destroyed the habitat that was previously found on these areas of the site and it would not be possible to recreate these habitats on the surface of the tipped material due to the particular ground conditions required,” a council report notes.
Principal planning officer Jonathan Haine told the meeting: “[The proposal] does provide the best way to recover some of the habitat that has been lost on this site.”
However, he also noted that while the 900 square metre replacement area proposed by Mr. Jackson was sufficient to cover the loss of unimproved calcareous grassland in the area, there could still be “some overall loss of habitat” on the site once an area of semi-improved grassland had been factored in.
Members rejected the application by nine votes to one, meaning the enforcement notice requiring restoration still stands, pending the appeal against it.
Under national planning rules, developments should “promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement of priority habitats”, while local policies in the Ribble Valley state that the loss of such habitats should be permitted only “in exceptional circumstances where justified by the benefits of a development.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service approached Mr. Jackson via his agent to offer the chance to comment on the issues raised during the committee meeting.