COUNCIL chiefs moved to protect the historic centre of Whalley in a public inquiry into a proposed controversial housing development.

Developers, The Co-operative Group, went head to head with council bosses at the two-day inquiry in the Ribble Valley council chambers yesterday.

The inquiry centred on an appeal lodged by the development firm against a council decision to reject a housing plan for up to 80 new homes on land near Riddings Lane.

Council officer's defended their decision claiming that development would be 'harmful to the character and appearance' of the village.

Adrian Dowd, principal planning officer at the council, said: "Whalley Abbey is one of the prime heriatge assets in the country and we have to do all we can to retain its' tranquil atmospehere.

"Increased traffic has a negative impact on what is a important historic environment and we do not wish to exacerbate that problem."

The large-scale housing development was thrown out after it attracted almost 200 letters of objection.

Paul Tucker QC, representing the Co-operative Group, said: "In January officers at the council unequivocally recommended this proposal for approval.

"However, members took a radically different view to their officers. They did not just disagree with officers they threw the metaphorical book at the scheme."

The inquiry heard that villagers and councillors had raised concerns about over-development, the limited school spaces, the increased traffic and inadequate drainage for the new homes as well as a 'detrimental impact' on local heritage sites."

But Mr Tucker, argued there was no “proper base” for the refusal of the appeal.

He said: "On heritage, this is probably the weakest case that one could legitimately imagine. It is asserted that because traffic already has an unacceptable effect upon the heart of the conservation area, then any further traffic would be unacceptable."

Today the inquiry overseen by government planning inspector, Harold Stephens, will hear evidence from seven local residents and a member of Whalley parish Council.