Pizza producer Dr. Oetker has persuaded councillors to approve the controversial expansion of its base in Leyland - after a last-minute tree-planting pledge designed to make the redevelopment a more appetising prospect for nearby residents.
South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee gave the global food giant the go-ahead to build a range of new facilities at its plant on the Moss Side industrial estate - some of which will be brought within 25 metres of the nearest residential properties.
But one local family left burned by the decision said that it “made a mockery” of the planning process.
The company will now demolish an existing warehouse and cooling tower and replace them with buildings including a two-storey production unit, a total of half a dozen 12 metre-high water tanks and silos, a plant room, linking bridge and cold storage area.
After previous “extensive discussions” between council officers and the firm, the storage facility was reduced in height by over 10 metres to 17.4 metres - having originally been intended to stand as high as the soon-to-be-flattened 28-metre tower.
However, that concession offered only a crumb of comfort to concerned residents - including mother and daughter Kathleen and Vicky Naylor.
“I implore you...not to be swayed by economic argument alone,” said Vicky, adding that the proposal did not comply with the council’s own sustainable development policy - and conflicted with its environmental objectives.
Kathleen told the committee that the complex would be “a visual intrusion for residents” and “out of character with existing buildings”.
“Compared to the scale of the proposed development, the [existing] tower has a significantly smaller footprint and is set further back from Longmeanygate.”
A planning officer’s suggestion that the vanilla and white colouring of the units would lessen their impact drew derisive laughter from members of the public.
Faced with a recommendation from officers to approve the development - in part, to “support economic growth” in accordance with national guidelines - members debated whether landscaping could shield locals from its worst effects.
They disagreed about whether established trees or younger specimens were the best buffer for the rural area that the site borders. However, they all wanted a greater say in the design of a scheme which was always going to be a condition of granting permission - but which would usually be approved at a later date by officers acting alone.
A Dr. Oetker representative had initially opted not to address the committee, but chair Caleb Tomlinson asked directly whether the firm would set up a working group to consult with residents over its landscaping proposals.
The food manufacturer’s head of operations in Leyland, Brian Harrison, agreed to the idea - and also told members that “cost would not be a limiting factor” when it came to deciding the type of trees to be planted.
“I understand [residents’] concerns,” Mr. Harrison said.
The proposed scheme will be considered by planning bosses and a sub-group of planning committee members. Work on the site will be unable to begin until they agree to the suggested measures.
But speaking after the meeting, Vicky Naylor said she was disappointed that members had focused so heavily on landscaping as a solution.
“They didn’t address the fact that the development is overbearing and so shouldn't have been agreed to - planning policy was made a mockery of.
“No amount of landscaping will mitigate it and it’s north-facing anyway, so nothing they do plant will grow [in the shade],” said Vicky, whose grandfather had his farm compulsorily purchased in the mid-1970s to make way for what is now the Moss Side industrial estate.
Dr. Oetker has said that its plans will create 107 new jobs and enable it to double pizza production in Leyland to 100 million a year.
On-site parking will be increased by 90 spaces and Lancashire County Council will receive £36,000 to cover the cost of junction improvements at the "five-arm roundabout" and any necessary changes to Comet Road.
Other objections to the plan included concerns about the potential for noise nuisance from the expansion.
One resident, who did not want to be identified in the media, said that planning officers had not given it proper attention.
"The noise impact assessment is flawed - it makes the assumption that only one delivery can take place in any given period," the woman said.
"I'd like to point out that there are three loading bays in the proposed plan and space for waiting lorries. It does not take into account the cumulative impacts from the service yard, HGVs, industrial activities on the rest of the estate and road noise.
"Residents already have issues with noise from the service yard - this proposal will bring the service yard 31m away from our homes, amplifying the noise issues," she added.
But the committee was told that the council's environmental health officer had "carefully considered" noise impact, sought calcification from the company and was now satisfied that the required standards would be met.