Green belt campaigners join forces ahead of crunch vote on region’s long-term housing masterplan
Date published: 13 November 2020
Photo: Mike Pennington (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Aerial view of Hollingworth Lake and Smithy Bridge
Green belt campaigners have joined forces ahead of a crunch vote on the region’s long-term housing masterplan.
Councillors in Rochdale will decide whether to approve the controversial – and long-delayed – Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) at an extraordinary meeting later this month.
The contentious blueprint sets out ambitious proposals for the next 17 years. In Rochdale, this includes creating more than 10,000 new homes and 700,000 square metres of employment space.
Local leaders say it is vital to provide the homes and economic growth needed over the next 17 years – particularly as the northern boroughs have traditionally lagged behind their southern counterparts.
But despite twice being redrawn, there remains fierce opposition to its plans to build on green belt and protected land.
This is particularly strong in Littleborough – home of the Hollingworth Lake beauty spot – which has been earmarked for 500 homes in the masterplan.
Plans include 300 homes on green belt next to the lake and 200 on ‘open protected land’ in the Roch Valley.
Also in the pipeline – though not part of the GMSF – is the redevelopment of the old Akzo Nobel site to provide a housing estate of around 170 homes.
Littleborough has a Victorian street plan and a population of around 10,000. Many fear the proposed developments will lead to frequent flooding and that infrastructure will not cope with the influx of new residents.
Now three community groups – Littleborough Green Belt Group, Littleborough Civic Trust, and Littleborough Flood Resilience Group – have together in a bid to put pressure on councillors ahead of the big vote on 25 November.
Campaigner Kate Clegg – also Rochdale Lib Dems’ environment spokesperson – said: “The clock is ticking. This will change Littleborough and Smithy Bridge beyond all recognition – unless people act now.”
The potential for increased flooding is high on the groups’ agenda.
Campaigners say the green belt land serves a ‘vital function’, with the moors soaking up millions of gallons of rainwater every year and acting as a ‘giant sponge’.
Ian Jackson, of Littleborough Flood Resilience Group, said: “Tarmac, bricks, flagstones and roof tiles do not absorb water – every house built on that land chips away at the moors capacity to protect the village.
Mr Jackson, also chairman of Littleborough Civic Trust, added: “You only have to look back to Boxing Day 2015 – after weeks of sustained rain the moors couldn’t absorb any more water and a torrent inundated the village and then the town. This could happen every year if these houses are built.”
And there are real fears that the area will struggle to cope should the proposed development go ahead.
Sara Berry, of Littleborough Green Belt group, said: “Schools, healthcare, emergency services and public transport have all been stripped to the bone and are barely capable of sustaining the village population now.”
And while the plans for the Roch Valley will be designed to include a residential relief road between Smithy Bridge Road and Albert Royds Street, campaigners say this does not solve Littleborough’s problems.
Ms Berry added: “There are no plans to improve the road network – there will be no extra emergency services, no extra busses or trains, no new medical centre. The hopelessly overstretched service infrastructure will have to cope with a 20% increase in population without additional support.”
Council leader Allen Brett is determined to get the GMSF over the line – and the council’s controlling Labour group look set to vote for the plans as things stand.
But the groups have found a sympathetic ear in the shape of Wardle and West Littleborough councillor John Taylor.
The Conservative opposes building on the green belt and believes the impacts of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic call for a full reassessment of future housing, transport and economic needs.
He said: “I genuinely want to see our town prosper with a vibrant economy, I really want to see our villages retain their unique identities and at the same time I wholeheartedly want to see us, as a borough, play our part in developing the wider conurbation.
“However, and regrettably this is the wrong time and the wrong plan to achieve those.”
However, Councillor John Blundell, cabinet member for a thriving economy, has warned that throwing out the GMSF would lead to more – not less – building on the green belt.
He said: “Without enough viable land to build on, developers can challenge the council’s plan. We then then end up in a situation where developers can pick plum plots across the borough and the council will have little standing or resources to fight back.”
The councillor, who lives in Littleborough, said: “Plans must be developed or we will see developers build over our green spaces in Littleborough. They won’t go to the central area, they will go for ones around here, and we must stop them.”
At the time of writing 750 people had signed an online petition against building on the green belt in Littleborough and Smithy Bridge and the GMSF.
Councillors will vote on whether Rochdale should adopt the GMSF at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday 25 November.
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter
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