A property developer hit out at a council’s planning department as he prepared to launch a third bid to redevelop a former café.
David Whittaker says he had interest from major firms including Tesco and Domino’s but was denied permission to demolish and rebuild a disused site at the side of the A565 near Tarleton.
The site was once home to TC’s Café and Car Wash but has lay empty alongside the 50mph stretch of dual carriageway since it closed last year.
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With newly drawn plans, shared exclusively with LancsLive, he is preparing to submit a third attempt to redevelop the site but likely faces a wait of several months before a decision will be made.
David, who owns Bella Homes and Smart View Properties in Hesketh Bank, spoke out after seeing an appeal against the council’s refusal dismissed by the planning inspectorate. The application had been rejected as the increased footprint of the proposed buildings fell foul of Green Belt regulations.
The developer believes those issues could have been addressed in pre-application discussions, meaning significant amounts of time and money could have been saved by modifying those plans rather than going all the way through the planning and appeals processes and then having to start again.
David, who regularly deals with planning departments at other councils such as South Ribble and Sefton, believes a lack of staffing makes West Lancashire consistently more difficult to deal with.
He said: “I’ve got applications in with them all and West Lancs are always slower, always have more problems.
“When they rejected the first one, they said it was too big. A little bit of dialogue earlier on and we could have changed it. Instead, it takes months and then it’s just rejected like ticking a box. We’re gonna have to go back into planning, we’ve got an architect in now. I don’t really want to change the design and it’s just gonna be another six months. It’s really frustrating.”
David’s company regularly carries out development works in the borough and he estimates he has paid more than £1million in Community Infrastructure Levies over the past decade. He has seen applications go to appeal before but was surprised to see the TC’s site rejected.
Having seen permission granted to build an Aldi supermarket on the site of an historic pub nearby, David remains puzzled why his plans were considered inappropriate.
“We get a situation like TC’s where we had some major retailers interested,” he said.
“We had Domino’s interested, we had Tesco interested, which is needed badly in Mere Brow. The main shop has just closed so this is something that’s actually needed.”
“They approved the Aldi in Tarleton. They’re only supposed to be allowed 20% uplift but that’s a lot more and there’s a big office block going up. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
He added: “The architect tells me I can just fill in the blocks and turn it into a warehouse under permitted development. Is that what it’s going to come to? I want to do something that actually benefits the community. They use Green Belt as an excuse, like it’s a box to tick so they can move on to the next one.”
In a bid to tackle concerns over the openness of the Green Belt, the latest plans include glass fronted buildings which are well separated to allow enough light to pass through the overall development.
The previous application included proposals for three shops, a hot food takeaway and a drive through coffee shop and the buildings are now more spread out in the latest drawings. For David, one of the frustrations is the time taken to make a decision and the difficulties surrounding speaking with the planning officers involved. He believes the officers themselves aren’t to blame, but instead that they are understaffed.
He said: “It’s getting worse. Other councils talk to you, we can’t pick up the phone and speak with West Lancs. I understand they’re doing all of West Lancs but they need to get some more staff.
“I’ve just put an application in for Croston, which is Chorley Council. It’s one where it’s already got planning approved but we’re changing the design. Straight away I got an email saying they’re looking forward to working with us. It’s a different world.”
A spokesperson for West Lancashire Borough Council said: “The council accepts that there is a backlog in processing planning and related applications and it fully understands that this is frustrating for applicants. The significant difficulties and restrictions brought about by the pandemic have contributed to these issues, presenting similar challenges to local authority planning departments across the country.
“We are actively responding to these issues by recruiting additional staff to help address the problem. In the coming months, we are hopeful that this, together with complementary improvements, will lead to a reduction in the backlog of applications and a more efficient Development Management service.”
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