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Rochdale's greenbelt revisited under revised Greater Manchester Spatial Framework plans

Date published: 07 January 2019


A reworked masterplan that will shape how Rochdale develops over the coming 20 years has finally been revealed.

The vision for the borough’s future includes more than 12,000 new homes and nearly 1m square metres of employment space – as well as major improvements to the road, rail and Metrolink networks.

It forms part of the long-awaited new Greater Manchester Spatial Framework draft, which was signed off by local leaders and Mayor Andy Burnham in Manchester this morning (7 January).

The original blueprint sparked huge controversy in Rochdale and across Greater Manchester – largely over the amount of green belt land proposed to be sacrificed for new homes and businesses.

When Mr Burnham was elected in May 2017, he told officials to go back to the drawing board – expressing an ambition for ‘no net loss’ of green belt and a ‘significant reduction’ in the amount of protected land included in the plan.

The second draft was expected in June last year, but forecasts suggesting the conurbation’s population would not grow as quickly as once thought – and confusion over government house-building targets – led to the new draft being put back five times.

Council officials believe they have addressed the most controversial aspects of the original plan, while retaining a vision that will see the borough become a key player in Greater Manchester’s economic future.

The plan will still see 635 hectares of Rochdale’s green belt land sacrificed for development – down from the 787 hectares included in the original draft.

Due to 175 hectares of land being put into the green belt for the first time – including parts of the Roch Valley and Firgrove Playing Fields – just shy of 60% of the borough would be retained as green belt once everything included in the plan is built.

In Rochdale, the original proposals would have seen the total amount of green belt land in the borough reduce from 62.8% to 58.2%. Under the new proposals, the green belt will reduce to 59.9%, meaning Rochdale will still have the highest proportion of green belt of all the Greater Manchester districts.

That represents a 2.9% loss of green belt, as opposed to the 4.6% loss in the 2016 spatial framework plan – meaning Rochdale will have the highest proportion of green belt of any of Greater Manchester’s borough.

Council leader Allen Brett said: “Rochdale is a hugely ambitious borough and we’re planning for major growth in the future.

“By bringing thousands of new jobs and homes, as well as substantial investment, this plan will help us play an even bigger role in Greater Manchester in the future and bring our prosperity in line with other parts of the city region.”

A drop in Rochdale’s projected housing need from 775 per year to 643 per year and identifying alternative sites for development have helped bosses slash the amount of the borough’s green belt lost in the plan.

The three most controversial developments in the original plan – which accounted for around 90% of objections – have now been taken out or changed to reflect residents’ concerns.

The first of these is green belt land to the south of Newhey, which has now been pulled from the plan altogether. Instead, up to 250 new homes will be built at Newhey Quarry.

The brownfield site is close to the M62 and Newhey Metrolink and will come hand-in-hand with a new Metrolink park and ride. It will also end residents’ concerns over a resumption in quarrying activity.

The 2016 plan also included the controversial release of green belt land around Junction 20 of the M62 and the east of the A627(M) around Tandle Hill Country Park for employment use.

This has now been withdrawn, although there will still be residential development to the north of the A627(M) spur road near Stakehill.

Plans to build 750 homes in Bamford and Norden were also a major bone of contention in the original spatial framework proposals, particularly as they involved the loss of sports pitches and facilities in the area.

However, that has now been reduced to a figure of 450 homes – meaning that, not only will the recreational land be saved – but any development in the area will have to come hand-in-hand with a commitment to improve and enhance those amenities.

As well as Newhey Quarry, two other major new sites have been identified for development, easing the pressure on green belt land.

Some 125 new homes will be built at the derelict Castleton sidings and this will also come with improvements to highways and a new cycleway, as well as the extension of the East Lancs Railway into Heywood.

And, in Heywood, the restoration of the Grade II* listed Crimble Mill and development of nearby Mutual Mills could also provide up to 250 high-quality new homes. These proposals will also include enhanced recreational open space, public transport and new school places at All Souls CE Primary School.

There will also be new green belt created around Queen’s Park.

Mark Robinson, assistant director of economy at Rochdale Council, said that, in basic terms, the development had replaced a previous proposal to develop at Lane End.

He said: “We think Crimble Mill has a much more coherent regeneration story to tell around that site and overall we don’t need the same amount of housing we needed last time so that’s been withdrawn.

Officials also say there is a lack of ‘high-end’ housing in the borough, and as well as the Crimble Mill site, are looking to build more expensive houses in the Roch Valley and around north east of Smithy Bridge.

The 450 homes in Bamford and Norden will also tend towards the high-end.

Mr Robinson added: “If we are to attract businesses into Rochdale, we have to have a housing offer to attract those businesses as well.

“We can’t just have the employment (development) we have to have the housing offer that attract the employees for those businesses as well.”

Other major sites include Trows Farm, Castleton, where there are proposals for 360 new homes south of Crown Business Park and a new primary school.

Housing is just one strand in the plan to transform the borough between now, 2038 and beyond.

Ambitious council bosses are determined that Rochdale will play a major role in Greater Manchester’s future economy – and that means creating around 20,000 new jobs.

At present, the borough’s employment rate, at 68.5%, is 4.5% below the city region average and 6.5% below the national average.

Councillor Brett says the plan gives the borough ‘a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address these challenges and transform our economy, while still remaining the greenest borough in Greater Manchester’.

There are three major employment sites included in the plan.

The first of these is The Northern Gateway, which will utilise land between junctions 18 and 19 of the M62 motorway, close to Heywood Distribution Park. This will include 600,000 square metres of new employment space in the Rochdale borough.

The joint-site, which includes another 600,000 square metres of land in Bury, was in the previous spatial framework plan, and council chiefs say research they have carried out suggests the land is ‘extremely attractive’ for employment use.

However, council officials have had a rethink about their vision for the site, and it has now been ear-marked for ‘high end’ advanced manufacturing.

Mr Robinson says the area has been recognised by the government as an area of ‘international significance’ for inward investment in ‘UK Plc’.

He added: “Our aspiration there is to develop an Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP:) we’ve done work with colleagues in Sheffield and Rotherham around work they are doing with Boeing and various other companies. We’re looking at an AMP linked to universities to really put this part of Greater Manchester on the map.”

Their plan also still includes plans to expand Kingsway Business Park on the south side of the M62, which will be linked to by a new access road from Junction 21. This will provide more than 130 square metres of new employment land as well as 182 extra homes.

Another big employment site is at Stakehill, albeit this has been scaled back from the 2016 blueprint.

This will provide 100,000 square metres of space for businesses to operate from and there will also be 900 new homes in the area.

Furthermore, the proposals include additional school places at Thornham St John Primary School and a new green belt ‘wedge’ around Thornham Lane and Tandle Hill, that was previously earmarked for development.

Mr Robinson added: “This plan really is about significantly boosting the local economic output of the borough. We’ve got the fastest growing population of all the Greater Manchester districts and we have the lowest employment rate.

“We need to plan for the housing growth, but more importantly we need to find jobs for our existing and future residents to access the spatial framework is about delivering those jobs and homes.”

Linking all this together will be a radically improved transport infrastructure, including a new M62 Junction 18a at Birch Services and improvements to Simister island and a ‘rapid transit route’ linking the Northern Gateway with Manchester city centre.

There are also proposals to improve access from Langley to the Northern Gateway at Heywood and Pilsworth site, via cycleways, footpaths and a possible new bus route.

This would mean residents would not have to use the M62 which currently acts as a barrier, despite the proximity of the two sites.

There are also proposals to improve the Calder Valley rail line, a new railway station at Slattocks and a direct Rochdale to Piccadilly Metrolink service, as well as extending the tram line to Middleton via the Bury line.

Further plans include increasing the frequency of the Rochdale-to-Oldham tram so that one service can branch off on to the main rail line and continue via on to Castleton and Heywood via Rochdale train station.

The plan will now go out to consultation for eight weeks from January 21 until 18 March. To find out more about the proposals for Rochdale and to access the consultation, visit: rochdale.gov.uk/spatialframework

Residents can also access the consultation in libraries across the borough and drop in sessions will also be taking place at the following locations:

  • Rochdale: Monday, 4 February 2019, 4pm-7pm at Rochdale Town Hall
  • Heywood: Tuesday, 5 February 2019, 4pm-7pm at Phoenix Centre
  • Littleborough: Thursday, 7 February 2019, 4pm-7pm at Hare Hill House
  • Middleton: Monday, 11 February 2019, 4pm-7pm at Middleton Arena
  • Milnrow: Thursday, 14 February 2019, 4pm-7pm at Milnrow Cricket Club

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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