Liberal Democrats vow to continue to fight to save Oldham’s Greenbelt from massive land grab for housing and industrial use

The Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council is gearing up for the next round in its fight to save Oldham’s Greenbelt and green spaces.

Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the 10 Council Leaders are due to agree the latest proposals for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) which identifies where future houses will be built and industry based.

Last year, public opposition, backed by support from Liberal Democrat Councillors across Greater Manchester, forced the Mayor to withdraw the original proposals to build homes on greenbelt across the county, including many thousands in Shaw, Crompton, Saddleworth, Chadderton and Royton.

The so called new proposals are now in the public domain and according to Shaw Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council very little has changed in terms of Oldham Borough and especially Shaw and Crompton.

“The Liberal Democrats recognise that we shall need more homes, including affordable housing for first-time buyers and renters and homes for people living independently with disabilities,” said Councillor Sykes.  “But our Greenbelt is irreplaceable so we will continue to oppose any plans to build there when there are unused brownfield sites that can be built on and empty mills which can be converted into residential accommodation.”

The Oldham Liberal Democrats wanted to see a plan for the Oldham Borough where new housing development takes place first:

·       on brownfield or derelict sites

·       on sites with existing planning permission for housing

·       by converting long-term empty mills, shops and offices into homes

·       by bringing existing long-term empty homes back into use

The Liberal Democrats also want to see firm commitments made to invest in those areas where new housing is to be built to provide better roads, improvements in public transport, more school places, and increased capacity in local doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries and health centres.

Councillor Sykes said: “In Shaw and Crompton, we already have primary schools which are bursting at the seams and an overburdened and run down health centre; without more investment in our transport infrastructure and better, new public facilities we simply cannot cope with any more people.”

“The Liberal Democrats made our position crystal clear in response to the so called earlier consultation – NO building on our Greenbelt.  These pleas have been ignored and therefore we will redouble our efforts in opposing these plans that will concrete over and change the character of our Borough and especially Shaw and Crompton.

To the Liberal Democrat Group and many of our constituents, these plans represent a massive and inequitable land grab in Royton, Shaw and Crompton with the devastation of our local Green Belt and OPOL (Other Protected Open Land).

It is proposed that new properties will be built at Cowlishaw; in the Beal Valley; Rushcroft; the Whitfield Farm area over towards Newhey; and around Gravel Hole and Low Crompton.   

Adjacent sites at Broadbent Moss (Oldham), Hanging Chadder (Oldham) and land East and West of the A627M (Rochdale and Oldham) if developed would also see a significant erosion of the Green Belt land in the so called ‘Northern Gateway’.

It is the view of the Liberal Democrat Group that there is no justification for the construction of a large number of properties (or indeed any properties) on Green Belt or OPOL before new homes are first built on Brownfield sites, on sites where planning permission for housing development has already been granted and upon the many derelict and unloved sites in our town centres and districts. 

Furthermore it is our view that conversions should take place so empty mills and factories can be used for housing (buildings and/or sites); as can land marked for industrial/commercial use; and bring the large number of empty homes back into use.

All this should be done before any consideration is given to future development on Green Belt or OPOL and this development for Oldham should, in our view, be apportioned better in the Metropolitan Borough rather than disproportionately in Royton, Shaw and Crompton as at present. 

Our existing motorways are frequently constrained by high levels of congestion resulting in unacceptable journey times and additional traffic jams on feeder and local roads. The projected growth of industrial warehousing, office space and new homes will require monumental investment in transport infrastructure.  It is of paramount importance to ensure that the transport infrastructure is in place before other building takes place.

All the sites identified, especially those in Royton, Shaw and Crompton are devoid of good vehicular access and there is no obvious way to make the necessary improvements.

Cowlishaw has no acceptable roads leading into the proposed site.  The topography around the Whitfield Farm area makes it difficult to envisage an elegant solution to site access.  Similarly the Beal Valley site is currently served only by a narrow road and the desire to facilitate access to this site by enhancing links to Shaw and Crompton Metrolink Station seem incredulous; the only current access, via Beal Lane, is saturated with existing traffic and HGV movements to and from existing businesses which are large National/European distribution centres. 

The increase in population will necessitate provision of additional services.  The GMSF does not appear to adequately address available funding to deliver on these requirements. 

In Shaw and Crompton, the necessary infrastructure to support even our existing population is lacking.  We have primary schools that are already overcrowded or full; a secondary school that is falling apart; a dilapidated Health Centre that is near cardiac arrest; no swimming facilities or dry leisure provision; precious few youth facilities and no municipal tip.

Under the proposals, 3,000 homes will be built in Royton, Shaw and Crompton for growing families.  These new residents will need more primary and secondary school places; more GPs and dentists; leisure and shopping facilities; and new highways and more buses and trams to get them there.

Now doesn’t Oldham Council’s decision to close and not replace the Crompton Swimming Pool and Gym look a little short-sighted given the number of new young residents that will need to learn to swim and the number of adults that will want to keep fit.

An important vision of the GMSF is that Greater Manchester becomes as well known for the quality of its environment as for its economic success.  Green Belt plays a role in this but there are important green spaces, parks, rivers and canals in the heart of our urban communities which are equally valuable.  The protection and enhancement of our blue and green infrastructure is a central theme of the strategy.

In view of the above aspiration it is difficult to understand why the specific green sites in Royton, Shaw and Crompton have been proposed.  There has been a lack of balance in the review and failure to give necessary weight to environmental and quality of life issues.

The vast majority of sites are notably attractive open spaces that provide pleasure, relaxation, and health benefits to local residents as well as our wider community.  The sites include public footpaths enjoyed by many dog-walkers, ramblers and walking groups. Many of the Public Rights of Way are important to the historic Shaw and Crompton ‘Beating of the Bounds’ and Crompton Circuit walks.  These locations also provide one of the few opportunities for people to undertake horse riding in safety which is particularly of concern for young and inexperienced riders.

These sites are further enhanced by a diverse range of flora and fauna and importantly provide those ‘green lung’ areas which minimise urban sprawl between built up conurbations.

Two of the sites include small but nevertheless important rivers within their boundaries; the Rivers Irk and Beal (Cowlishaw and Beal Valley respectively) help to prevent flooding and are attractive features of the two sites. 

Additionally the Cowlishaw site is renowned for upwell of numerous local springs and given to serious flooding. The area has deep unstable subsoil that will require significant pilings leading to excessive construction costs.

Cowlishaw and Beal Valley also contain Sites of Biological Importance and these must be retained.

In regards to Saddleworth there is only one Strategic Site in the Spatial Plan, Robert Fletcher’s in the Greenfield valley, which has long been seen as needing a strategic view and plan to avoid piecemeal development.  Indeed Saddleworth Parish Council presented an outline plan for the valley some years ago and has done so again in response to the spatial proposals.

The plan proposes some 175 houses and 10-15 ‘lodges’ which one assumes, given past happenings, would become houses.  These houses given the lack of public transport or facilities and the preference for high value housing would do nothing to lessen the need for affordable housing in the area.

The topography and lack of transport links and the high value of local scenery makes other large sites hard to find in Saddleworth especially given the presence of the Peak National Park there.

Saddleworth is, however, very vulnerable to the number of other smaller sites, some of them astoundingly unsuitable, offered for development in addition to those in this strategic framework.  

The Green Belt and open spaces within Oldham are areas of pleasant natural beauty that make us unique in Greater Manchester.

The Oldham Council Liberal Democrat Group firmly believes that our precious Green Spaces should be protected.

The Group strongly advocates that no building on Green Belt or OPOL be undertaken until developments are first undertaken on Brownfield sites, on sites where planning permission for housing development has already been granted, and upon the many derelict and unloved sites in our town centres and districts; and also after the conversion of mills and factories into housing use and after every empty home has been brought back into use.

Only when all of these things have been done should we then; and only then; consider developing any part of our precious Green Belt.

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