Poorer Pendle areas ‘could be left with trousers down’ if they don’t protect green spaces in new local plan, campaigner warns

Pendle households and businesses are being encouraged to take part in fresh consultations this summer for a brand new local plan, after a previous plan was scrapped amid fears that housing targets were too high and outdated.

By Robbie Macdonald
Monday, 11th July 2022, 7:55 pm
Updated Monday, 11th July 2022, 8:02 pm

One campaigner says green spaces in poorer areas are vulnerable to being built on, unless local people engage in the new consultations.

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Pendle Borough Council is urging people to provide updated opinions and information in coming weeks to make the new local plan up-to-date. Consultation is expected later in July or August.

Nelson Town Hall

The previous local plan had been partly completed in past years. But delays in completing a second part, which rival political groups have blamed each other for, fed into calls for a brand new plan.

The move to create a brand new local plan and lower the borough’s annual house-building targets was made in a vote by councillors in December, as previously reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service,

Critics argued that the old plan supported high targets of house building designed to attract families and, in turn, businesses looking for a good local workforce. But the higher housing target was later described as unrealistic and putting unwanted pressure on local land.

Councillors at the borough’s latest Policy & Resources meeting gave the go-ahead for new consultation which must be for at least four weeks. They also approved four new reports which cover tasks including a ‘call for sites’ and details on how the public can give feedback. But there were some worries that green sites are vulnerable to unwanted applications in the period before the new local plan comes into action.

But before councillors had their say, a Colne business owner and green spaces campaigner, Emma Hartley, gave her views about the situation. She also spoke at a council meeting in March, regarding the future of Gibb Hill.

Ms Hartley said: ” There is a lot of concern because all the uncertainty has come back again. We had already done consultation and now we are back to square-one. I realise what has happened but scrapping the previous plan wasted time and money.

“Now, my concern is that people are less likely to engage and poorer people even less likely. How are you going to include people so they don’t feel overlooked?”

She was also worried that poorer areas would be more vulnerable to losing green spaces compared to wealthier areas, owing to different levels of activity by residents and different classifications of land, some of which is green belt.

She said: “The South Valley is being left with its trousers down, as easy picking for developers. Meanwhile other areas have got their belt-and-braces with greenbelt status.

“Four areas are mentioned as being at risk from developers. We hope councillors when making decisions on the plan will do everything in their power to protect those vulnerable areas and protect the open countryside, as was said during the election campaign.”

Conservative Coun Nadeem Ahmed, Leader of Pendle Council, said: “Consulting the public will be a critical part of the new plan and consultation with statutory bodies too. I think that will be an integral part. It must happen.”

Head of planning Neil Watson said: “One the reports scopes-out what consultation will look like. The last on-line consultation worked really well.

“There are now 95,000 people in Pendle, according to the new census figures. We are not going to reach everyone but hopefully we’ll get a good range of views. We cannot change the greenbelt but all other areas are up for discussion. Communities will have their say and elected councillors will make those decisions.”

Conservative Coun David Cockburn-Price welcomed the new project and said: “Bringing this on is good. We want people to stay interested and informed. There will be lots of discussion about green spaces and brownfield sites. We know there are individual, smaller sites which might be taken-on by local builders, which could be a good way to improve the area overall.

“Also there is a lot of previously developed land, now known as ‘PDL’, which perhaps is a bit of a grey area. Getting people to spell-out a bit more about these sites will help us with later discussions. It’s good that groups are having their say and I think lessons have been learned from last time.

“We are always going to face speculative development. It’s part of life. But if we can show that bad planning decisions are refused on sound planning grounds, that will be important.”

Conservative Sarah Cockburn-Price also supported the new project.

She said: “I understand what Emma says. But the old plan was ‘creaking’ and would only have served us to 2030. This new plan will be better, will have better evidence and will last until 2040. I also think we can have more confidence that this new plan will have a bigger focus on the environment and emission targets etc. ”

She also said the new local plan, a document called the Colne Neighbourhood Plan and national planning policies all had to be consistent. In Colne, a local design code for new housing had been created, to promote good homes.

She also said communities should consider ‘double designating’ sites. For example, parks could also also designated as local green spaces. Designations can overlap but also lapse over time, she warned.

She emphasised: “Things are not set in stone. These are living documents and can be refreshed. This is an excellent start and I’ll be encouraging residents to take part.”

However Lib-Dem Coun David Whipp said national planning policy set by governments had become ‘broken’.

He said: “We don’t have a properly-functioning planning system that fits the needs of Pendle. I see many planning applications going to government planning inspectors and getting approval, despite what local people, councillors or our planning officers want.

“There is also uncertainty about what national planning polices will be in future because there is no clarity at the heart of government, which has other priorities. Meantime, local people are left in limbo, our old plan is dead-as-a-duck and developers are cherry-picking the best sites.”

He blamed Pendle Conservative councillors for alleged decisions in the past, which he claimed delayed progress on the previous local plan and paved the way to the current situation.

However Coun Sarah Cockburn-Price rejected this. She criticised past decisions by the Lib-Dems and Labour.

She added: “We hoped the local pan would come in 2016 or 2017. That didn’t happen for various reasons. Last year, we listened to the legal advice saying our housing targets would have failed. We wanted a lower number but we needed evidence to back it up. So the Conservatives took that advice.”

But Labour Coun Asjad Mahmood was worried about pressure on green sites now while work is under-way creating the new local plan, which would take some time.

He said: “I’m worried developers will have a free hand. We should protect green sites and make brownfield sites a priority. I know brownfield sites are more expensive to develop but there must be a way we can help.”

On consultation, Labour Coun Mohammad Hanif said: “A lot of people gave their views last time, of different ages etc. It’s essential that their views get used. We don’t want to miss those excellent thoughts. If people put the effort into commenting previously then we must find a way to ask them to comment again. ”

Neil Watson replied: “We got a lot of comments and a lot will feed into this. Legally, we cannot take old comments. People need to make new comments based on what is before them.”

He said people who had commented by email previously could be contacted again and encouraged to take part in the fresh consultation.