MP gives backing to green belt changes in Local Plan

St Helens North MP Conor McGinn
St Helens North MP Conor McGinn
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Changes to the green belt in the Local Plan shows council chiefs have listened to residents’ concerns, the St Helens North MP has said.

The St Helens Local Plan, which covers development in the borough from 2020 to 2035, is expected to be approved by cabinet today (Wednesday).

Two new brownfield sites, land at the Cowley Hill works in St Helens and the former Suttons distribution centre in Thatto Heath, have been brought forward for housing development since the last plan was published.

In being put forward, it reduces the need for green belt release.

The “preferred options” plan, which went out for public consultation in 2016, sparked a public backlash after the council suggested releasing 1,187 hectares of land from the green belt.

Currently, 65 per cent of the borough is in the green belt. The latest version of the Local Plan proposes to reduce this to 59 per cent.

Some sites have also been “safeguarded” in the plan, which means they cannot be developed on over the next 15 years.

St Helens North MP Conor McGinn said the changes to the green belt shows the council has listened to residents.

Mr McGinn said: “I’ve always argued for a balanced Local Plan that encourages jobs, investment and economic growth across the borough and improves the quality of life for our residents.

“I think the latest version of the Local Plan shows that the council has listened to my and residents’ concerns about the previous draft.

“The leader of the council, Derek Long, the cabinet member for balanced development, Andy Bowden and local Labour councillors have worked hard to take the range of views across the borough in to account, while complying with government-set housing targets and trying to build a strong local economy.

“I am pleased to see a significant reduction in the amount of green belt proposed for release particularly across Rainford, Haydock and Billinge, and also the removal of proposed immediate development sites in the east of the borough between Newton and the East Lancs and especially around Haydock Island, and in Windle.”

James Wright, chairman of Rainford Action Group, said the latest version of the Local Plan is a “step in the right direction”.

“The previous version was effectively an invitation to developers to destroy protected land right across St Helens,” Mr Wright said.

“The changes the council have made show they recognise they got it wrong last time.

“People in Rainford will be pleased but the plan still earmarks a huge chunk of grade one agricultural land for development.

“And if that goes ahead, we’re concerned it could make it harder to argue against developing neighbouring fields in the future.”

Paul Parkinson, chairman of Residents Against the Florida Farm Development, has argued that very little has changed since the preferred options plan.

Mr Parkinson said: “Although we came into existence two-and-a-half years ago to oppose the development of the warehouses at Florida Farm North, we have actively campaigned against development in the green belt in Blackbrook, Haydock and Garswood.

“The proposals in the submission draft of the Local Plan contain one or two surprises but on the whole, it hasn’t changed much from the original proposals in December 2016.”

Subject to approval by cabinet and full council, an eight-week publication period will begin in January to allow the public to view the plan and make representations to the council.

The Local Plan will then be submitted to an independent planning inspector, with a view to adopting it in 2020.