An area of open space will be maintained amidst a planned development in Farington Moss after South Ribble Council rejected a chance to cash-in by allowing the whole site to be used for new homes.
The authority was offered £295,000 to compensate it for not taking up an option to reserve the land, off Moss Lane, for community and leisure use. But it has instead opted to buy the plot for £77,000 and plans to ensure that part of the area remains free from development.
The wider site is allocated for housing under the borough’s local plan and has planning permission for up to 400 properties to be built.
Cabinet members approved the move after the authority’s planning committee last month refused to vary an agreement with the landowner, the government agency Homes England. That would have seen the council surrender its right to insist on the land being retained for community and leisure use – and instead be handed half of the estimated increase in the value of the site as a result it being developed in its entirety.
The Labour-run council has not yet decided exactly what it will do with the portion of land which it has acquired – but it could be used as part of the recently-announced programme to plant a tree for every resident in the borough.
“Our plan is very much around [using the area] as green space,” said Cllr Matthew Tomlinson, member for finance, property and assets.
“When we’ve promised to plant 110,000 trees, we need to take every opportunity we can.
“This part of the borough is going through significant change and we need to enhance it,” he added.
Cllr Colin Clark, the portfolio holder for assets in the previous Conservative administration, warned that the cost of maintaining the land which the council was going to buy – and any liabilities associated with it – could be “significant”.
Since the original planning agreement was entered into, the council has adopted its “campus” model for developing leisure hubs in the borough. That rendered the section of the Moss Lane site reserved for formal leisure facilities redundant.
Under the agreement, Homes England was required to offer the promised plot to the council – but was entitled to walk away without paying compensation if that offer was turned down, leaving the land available for development. However, papers presented to cabinet revealed that the compensation deal had been suggested because of Home England’s “longstanding relationship” with the council.
If it had been accepted, the money would have been used as a contribution towards health and wellbeing initiatives elsewhere in the borough.
Council leader Paul Foster said the decision to acquire the land represented “fantastic social value” and would create an “area which all the community can enjoy”.