Big changes planned to new M55 service area

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A proposed new motorway service area on the M55 near Preston could be 40 percent larger than first planned.

It emerged last year that a site alongside junction 2 of the motorway - an exit that opened less than 12 months ago, connecting to the new Preston Western Distributor Road - was being eyed as a stop-off point by specialist operator Moto. 

If ultimately granted planning permission, the facility would become the first motorway service outlet in the vicinity of the city - and the only one on the M55. 

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Preston City Council planners concluded back in October that an environmental impact assessment would not be required as part of their future consideration of the overall proposal.

However, Moto has now submitted new documents to the authority which reveal a huge increase in the footprint of the development.

The core built element of the scheme - which includes the petrol filling area, food and convenience store outlets, toilets, a 360-space car park and separate HGV park - is set to grow from the originally-envisaged 6.8 hectares to 9.6 hectares.

According to correspondence sent to the town hall by the agent for the application, the change is necessary as a result of “drainage requirements, the avoidance of some ecological features and to account for access to the site”.

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As The Gazette revealed last year, the development would be accessed from a second roundabout to be created close to the one that links the M55 and the distributor road - now known as Edith Rigby Way - which runs through to the A583 at Riversway and Blackpool Road.

While the revised proposal - although only indicative in terms of layout - does not suggest any change to that arrangement, it does note that highway officials at Lancashire County Council have expressed “slight concern” about the “safety of the junction arrangements” for the service area.  

However, the authority has otherwise been “positive” about the scheme, according to the documentation lodged with the city council - and the applicant says detailed plans for the junction set-up will be covered within a travel assessment that will form part of the full planning application. 

Meanwhile, it is proposed that the size of the overall site grows even further than the built-up aspect - so that it spans 13.9 hectares in total.   However, around four hectares of the broader plot would be to deliver “habitat enhancement”, with no built development proposed for that area.

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The increase is designed to enable Moto to aim to deliver a 20 percent increase in biodiversity on the site - as opposed to the 10 percent required by regulations - in order to address comments made by Preston City Council during pre-application discussions. 

The authority has now been asked for a second so-called “screening opinion” on whether an environmental impact assessment is needed, taking into account the proposed changes.

Planning consultancy PWA Planning, on behalf of Moto, acknowledges in its submission to the city council that the site is currently “rural in character”, but adds:

“Proximity to the new junction 2 development has altered [its] character…to some extent, bringing an urbanising effect to the locality. It is not considered that the proposed development would give rise to significant environmental effects in landscape and visual terms.”

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The car and HGV parking spaces have been designed to accommodate future electric vehicle charging connections - and so are wider than usual.

Jess Lockwood, Property Director at Moto, told The Gazette: "We understand that local people will want to find out more. We are at an early stage in developing our plans, so there is limited information available for us to share at the moment.

“That said, our vision for the site is ambitious. Our plans will be environmentally conscious, with large areas set aside for biodiversity, wildlife habitats and green space, and include sustainably built facilities, meeting both the existing needs of the Strategic Road Network and ensuring road users can transition to clean, sustainable energy in the future.

"We are committed to engaging with local people. Once we have developed our plans, we will undertake an extensive public consultation exercise to understand feedback. In the meantime, if local residents or stakeholders want to get in touch, they can do so by emailing [email protected].”

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