A FAMOUS Wigan company claims that a council dispute could cripple its export push.
Northern Diver, which operates from premises at the former quarry site in Appley Bridge, said that the refusal of West Lancs Council to back their extension plan is frustrating its growth and has cost them a lucrative grant from the government.
Bosses at the firm accused planning department chiefs of using the application process as a way of raising revenue for the town hall, not helping to boost jobs. Northern Diver, which currently has 35 staff, also claimed that the planning refusal meant they would now lose a £130,000 grant which could have created a dozen jobs.
The firm says the council is dismissing bids from applicants who have decided against engaging in formal pre-application discussions with the council which cost a set fee.
But the council has strongly refuted the claims.
A spokesman said that each application was evaluated individually on the merits of it’s planning grounds only.
The parent company of Northern Diver had submitted a planning application in March to flatten a lean-to building at the rear of their headquarters at East Quarry on Appley Lane North. They wanted to replace it with a two storey rear extension which would have included new offices and workshop.
However West Lancs turned down the scheme arguing that it would have conflicted with its policy of sustainable development incorporated into the West Lancashire Local Plan.
Planners remained concerned that the new building would have had no relationship to the existing structure and would have appeared to be an ‘awkward, incongruous add-on.’
Northern Diver’s general manager, Ian McLeod said that the new building is at the rear of a current steel clad building and was not seen and had raised no objections from members of the public because it overlooked the former flagstone quarry.
He said that it was wrong to say that the firm had declined consultation with the council and the reality was that it had never been offered any chance to do so.
Mr McLeod claimed that the council was one of a minority across the UK who charge for per-application discussions, which it was using as a way of raising revenue.
He said: “Businesses are being forced to pay for a discussion before an application is submitted to stand a chance of being passed and that it not right.
“You should have an open dialogue with the planning department and it is holding business back.”
But a spokesman for West Lancs said that the application wasn’t refused because Northern Diver didn’t engage the council’s pre-application advice service, but because the building was of “poor design quality.”
He said if Northern Diver has used the pre-application service, introduced three years ago, it would have been alerted to the authority’s concerns about the design, before the submission. The firm supplies underwater mine disposal clearance equipment to the Ministry of Defence and had submitted a planning application in September for a 12-metre diving tank set to be to be funded by a £130,000 grant from Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
But due to a technicality in the application it was withdrawn and the firm then lost the grant as it had to have the building finished by March.
If the tank project had gone ahead Northern Diver would have been only the second UK company to offer this testing facility.
The council spokesman said that it had invited Northern Diver to resubmit a revised planning application in October but the new application was only submitted at Christmas.
He said officers had issued a decision a fortnight before the eight-week statutory period deadline for decision making.