Planning chiefs refuse Saddleworth road and housing plans opposed by thousands
Friday 16th November 2018 @ 15:45 by Tom Greggan
Mossley & Saddleworth News

Controversial proposals to build a £3.5m link road and 265 homes on protected open land have been refused in a shock decision by planning chiefs.

At a heated meeting attended by more than 100 objectors, Oldham’s planning committee considered for two hours whether to support plans for a new road and housing estate on green land in Saddleworth.

Around 2,500 people had objected to the plans to link Knowls Lane and Ashbrook Road, which developers said would help bring in £11.3m into the local economy.

Half of the 15 hectare site was already allocated for housing, but the remainder was deemed ‘other protected open land’ (OPOL) – which the planning inspector had ruled in 2011 was ‘imperative’ to be retained.

The town hall’s officers had recommended the application for approval, arguing that the harm to the landscape was outweighed by the scheme’s ‘significant benefits’, and would help meet housebuilding pressures.

But on Wednesday night the majority of the committee decided that they could not support such a harmful loss of open space in the borough, which was met by cheers from jubilant campaigners.

Objectors who opposed the building of a new link road and 265 houses on land off Knowls Lane in Saddleworth, Oldham. // Charlotte Green LDR.

Representing the thousands of objectors, Grotton resident Sue Hodgkiss told the chamber it should remain as protected open land as the road would bring ‘major destruction’ to the natural environment.

“The development would cause serious loss of amenity to the neighbourhood,” she said, adding it would have a ‘detrimental’ effect on the character of the area and wildlife.

“The existing infrastructure already struggles to cope with education, transport and healthcare needs,” she added. “Adding several hundred more people to this area will only produce additional strain on the already overstretched services.

“People who know this area have serious safety concerns about the link road, including bringing more traffic near a primary school. The cup is already full, we can’t pour anymore into this area. This is the last piece of open land that we have and I think this is why we should not be building on this area.”

Planning officer Graeme Moore said it was considered that the harm to heritage assets would be limited, and harm to the landscape and loss of open land was ‘outweighed by the scheme’s public benefits’.

Highways officer Wendy Moorhouse told the meeting the link road had been a ‘long-term aspiration’ for the council, and the application ‘presents the opportunity for realising this ambition’.

Head of planning Stephen Irvine told the chamber that national policy had changed since the 2011 local plan to reflect housing need, and not enough homes are being built in the Saddleworth area.

“The fact of the matter is we need substantial numbers of housing,” Mr Irvine said. “We quite clearly indicate that the OPOL land is an issue, with some landscaping harm. The problem is the benefits are significant.”

Saddleworth West and Lees ward Councillor Stephen Hewitt also addressed the committee to argue against the plans. “The council should be taking action to radically increase brownfield developments and to bring back life to abandoned sites,” he said. “We should not be relinquishing green areas for development.”

Objectors to the Knowls Lane link road and housing plans celebrate after the application is refused at Oldham planning committee.

 

But speaking on behalf of the applicant, Russell Homes UK Ltd, Gary Lynch said that the link road has been a plan of the council for two decades which will tackle a ‘historic bottleneck’ in the area. He said they were also supporting the nearby St Agnes Primary School with space to expand, and would provide 60 affordable homes

But Mr Lynch said they had ‘no choice’ but to develop across the whole site and into the protected land, otherwise the multi-million pound plans for the road would not have been viable.

“To deliver the link road, we effectively need more land to deliver it. It’s important that we create two storey type family homes not six-storey apartments,” he said. “We achieve the council’s aspiration of the link road at no cost to the public purse, we are transferring land to the school for their expansion, we are an award-winning house-builder delivering very high quality family homes, and affordable homes to meet local need and housing targets.

“There are no grounds for refusal and the benefits clearly outweigh the effects.”

However Saddleworth Cllr John Hudson asked whether they ‘seriously think that you’d be improving the district’, adding he believed it was about ‘profit’ rather than what was best for the area.

Cllr Mohon Ali agreed, adding: “Certainly if it was being built in my area I would find that difficult to support it.”

Cllr Shadab Qumer told the committee that he travels frequently through Saddleworth and the link road would be ‘very convenient’ for him, but added ‘it’s not the right thing to do’.

“It’s about the residents of the area who would be affected day in, day out,” he said. “I know we need housing in Oldham but the need is not at any cost. As far as I’m concerned we’re not going to do it at the cost of the OPOL.”

Cllr Qumer moved a motion to refuse the application, which was supported by a majority of the committee.

After the result was announced, resident Sue Hodgkiss told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she was ‘really pleased’ with the councillors’ decision. “The development is not in the right place, the loss of open land would be so detrimental to the area so I’m so glad this has been turned down tonight,” she said.

“We’ve been working on this for over 12 months and thankfully this has gone our way. I’ve not slept for weeks thinking about it. So I think a sleep first, but definitely a celebratory drink as well.”

By Charlotte Green
Local Democracy Reporter