Campaigners and councillors hit out at Rochdale’s revised development plan

Date published: 10 January 2019

Campaigners and opposition politicians have hit out at Rochdale’s revised 20-year plan for homes and jobs, claiming it still does not go far enough to protect green belt land and provide vital new infrastructure.

The long-awaited second draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which includes proposals for all 10 boroughs, was revealed amid much fanfare earlier this week.

Local leaders were sent back to the drawing board by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham in 2017, following an outcry over the amount of green belt land originally earmarked for new jobs and industrial estates.

Council officials responded by reducing the net loss of green belt in their proposals from 4.6% to 2.9%, and believed they had addressed the most controversial aspects of the original plan.

Under the new draft nearly 60% of the borough would remain as green belt, even if every development was built out.

And council Leader Councillor Allen Brett has hailed the plan as a ‘once-in-a-generation’ chance to boost Rochdale’s economy ‘while still remaining the greenest borough in Greater Manchester’.

But despite council officials efforts to strike the right balance between seizing economic opportunities and protecting green belt land, the new proposals have met with fierce criticism from some quarters.

One of the most controversial proposals in the original draft was a plan to build 750 ‘high quality homes’ in Bamford and Norden, resulting in the loss of sports pitches and facilities.

In the new draft the number of homes has been reduced to 450, along with a promise that any developer would have to improve sporting facilities in the area.

But Sean Clowes, chairman of the Save Bamford Green Belt group, says this does not go ‘anywhere near’ far enough.

He said: “We are absolutely opposed to any development on that green belt land, the reason being it’s literally the only green belt land left in Bamford.

“Over a period of decades there has been this real land grab, they have just continued to develop and develop. “

Council officials insist that there is not be enough brownfield land for all the homes and employment space Rochdale is going to need.

But Mr Clowes takes issue with that claim.

“Last time I suggested around 20 brownfield sites which are not all in the GMSF, but there has not been justification for why all these sites haven’t been considered,” he said

“Nobody is against development, but it shouldn’t be easy. It shouldn’t just be taking green belt land that’s the biggest thing, we don’t want them just taking the easy route.”

The group also questions whether the area needs 450 new executive homes, saying their own research shows ‘an abundance of executive properties for sale in Rochdale that are just not selling’.

Mr Clowes added: “It’s a massive decision to make, once the decision is made and the button pushed you never get it back again. The right level of work needs to have been done and due diligence on brownfield sites.

“The problem at the moment is that no one is coming back and saying we have absolutely exhausted all the brownfield sites. It’s a 20-year plan. I think the feeling is that Bamford seems like a golden egg for Rochdale Council.”

Mr Clowes says he welcome the pledge to protect sporting facilities, but that it is not enough to mitigate the other potential impacts.

“It’s definitely a positive that the football fields are going to be protected, that was a massive concern, it was a large part of our argument,” he said.

“About 500 or 600 children use those facilities, personally I’m pleased about that, but it doesn’t go far enough. I can’t make a stand and say that’s going to be adequate. The facilities in Bamford can’t cope with that increase. It’s green belt land for a reason and it seems very convenient the council can take it away so easily.”

Bamford councillor Pat Sullivan has slammed the plan as ‘a mess’ and ‘ill thought-out’.

The Conservative is particularly worried that 450 new executive homes could dump another 1,000 cars on to Norden Road and other main routes at peak times.

She added: “They are not doing infrastructure along with building lots of houses, they are not being cognisant of the road structure and pinch points at certain times of day.”

“It’s just been built up to the hilt. They want to build a lot of houses because of the council tax they will get back, they are using it as a money machine for the borough.”

“We have no open space in Bamford, we are always being asked ‘can we have a playground’ but there’s nowhere to put anything.

“There are rights of way through this green belt, so if you take this away, there’s nothing. People are really upset about it and we are not prepared to stand back and have it ruined.”

Councillor Sullivan is also concerned that sporting facilities could potentially be relocated to a central hub, possibly in Heywood, which would lead to further building on the site.

She also called into question the council’s claim to have created 175 hectares of new green belt.

“They have said they are going to make Queen’s Park into a green space area, but it’s already there,” she said.

“They are telling us where there are going to be green space areas, but you can’t count parks in that. It’s ridiculous. The whole thing is ill thought through. Infrastructure needs to be looked at before they plan any building.”

Councillor Sullivan’s Conservative colleague, Rina Paolucci, has also attacked the new proposals.

Coun Paolucci, who represents Wardle and West Littleborough, is opposed to plans for Pennines which include 300 new homes north east of Smithy Bridge and 210 new properties in the Roch Valley.

She says building more housing in the area should not even be considered ‘until there is infrastructure to support this, in the form of a new road in the valley bottom’.

“This was raised 20 years ago and the reason given for not building it was that it would encourage property development. Fast forward to the present day and many more housing estates have been built but still no road,” she said.

“The A58 and all connecting routes are full to capacity and gridlocked with nose to tail traffic during peak times and more.

“This cannot go on. We are putting the health and welfare of our residents in jeopardy, not to mention systematically eradicating all open space.

“The grounds for refusing massive developments in Smithy Bridge are staring us in the face. We all know, the professionals in Highways all know and the developers know that the road is full to capacity now.

“It’s time to put the residents who live here first.”

Also in the Pennines, furious Liberal Democrat chief Andy Kelly has accused council leaders of ‘failing to listen to its own residents’.

“This is not a good deal for Rochdale, especially in areas like the Pennines and particularly Milnrow and Newhey,” he said.

Two of Rochdale’s main development areas are in Newhey, and with others based in nearby Littleborough and Shaw, Councillor Kelly fears his Milnrow and Newhey ward will ‘come to a grinding halt’ without the necessary infrastructure improvements.

He said: “(People travelling from) developments in Smithy Bridge, Lakeside, Newhey Quarry, Newhey and Shaw will all need to travel through Milnrow and Newhey.

“The ward is pinned by Kiln Lane and Jubilee Bridge which are 18th Century single track roads. It is already ‘chocka’, where is the forethought to alleviate this?

“It’s disgraceful that no thought has gone into expansion of the roads network, buses, trams or how vital services like schools, doctors or parking.”

Like Councillor Sullivan, he, also questions whether the amount of new green belt land in the scheme is all it seems.

“This is nothing but smoke and mirrors as Firgrove Playing Fields is in currently in trust and cannot be built upon but presumably, now its green belt, it can be!”

And Councillor Kelly also slammed the lack of social and affordable and starter homes in the plan.

“We might as well be giving our young people an eviction notice from the Pennines now as there will be no feasible way anyone under 25 will ever be able to afford to live here without parental support,” he said.

And like campaigners in Bamford he does not accept that all brownfield sites have been exhausted and called for a different approach to development.

“We have four major manufacturers and industrial companies in Milnrow that cannot expand because of geography. We should be talking to them about how we can support them to expand and relocate to Kingsway for example, to increase productivity and employment.

“The whole of the centre of Milnrow could then become a garden village, on the Riverside, by the Metrolink and with motorway access. There would be space for a much needed school, parking, leisure and retail.

“But we seem to have gone with a short sighted ‘build big houses in the green belt’ policy that takes no consideration for infrastructure.”

Perhaps the key pillar in the entire Rochdale plan is The Northern Gateway.

The huge site, which runs between junctions 18 and 19 of the M62, close to Heywood Distribution Park, is earmarked for 1,600 new homes and more than 600,000 square metres of employment space.

But Darren Court, a leading member of the Save the Green Belt at Heywood Group, says campaigners are as opposed as ever to the plan.

“The fact that Heywood is still on the map and hasn’t been downscaled, it’s actually been increased, that fact alone sums up where we are,” he said.

“The biggest development has gone from 1,000 to 1,600 homes, it’s gone from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous in our opinion,” said Mr Court.

“It’s an easy way of building houses, you grab a big chunk of green belt land, build houses on it, it’s all wonderful.”

“The bottom line is that politicians have been downright lazy. They have got brownfield sites but have gone to enormous lengths to prove they can’t really develop it or it’s not really there, when their own research projects show they have enough brownfield sites.”

Mr Court believes council officials are essentially being driven by a fear other boroughs could steal an economic march on them in future.

He said: “It seem fairly obvious there’s a green belt grab, a sense that if they don’t do something now, they will never do it. If everyone else does it before us we will lose out.

“You are not talking about sustainable development. or need, we are saying ‘we need to get ours before they get theirs. And Rochdale Council has probably flown that flag more than most.”

The plan includes proposals for improvements to the Metrolink and rail service but Mr Court remains unconvinced.

“The reality is none of that is here,” he said. “All the planning guidlines, including the ones Rochdale Council subscribe to, say you don’t develop there unless you have the transport infrastructure there.”

“What they have done is go for a land grab unless they miss out, I think that is pretty self-evident.

“They are trying to masquerade behind housing need and development. We do need to build new houses, but we need cleverer solutions than just grabbing bits of green belt.”

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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