Projected jobs figures for the regeneration of the derelict Parkside Colliery in Newton-le-Willows have been described as “conservative” by the scheme’s agent.
This week, outline planning permission was granted for the first phase of the regeneration of the former colliery, which is viewed as a major employment site for St Helens and the Liverpool City Region.
The plans for the site, which is in the green belt, were originally submitted in January 2018 by Parkside Regeneration LLP, a joint venture between commercial developers Langtree and St Helens Council.
National and regional logistics and distribution companies are being targeted for the site, as well as retailers and national parcel and delivery companies.
The applicant has estimated the scheme would provide 457 full time equivalent jobs during construction and 1,330 gross jobs during operation.
The scheme’s agent, JLL, told councillors that the projected jobs figures have been calculated using government guidance from Home England.
David Rolinson from JLL said they were aware of concerns around jobs projections, following the announcement in July that Amazon was to create an initial 250 jobs at its warehouse at Florida Farm – significantly less than the 1,000 touted by developers at planning meetings.
He said logistics company Prologis ran a separate survey of all of its properties and corroborated the projected 1,330 jobs figure.
In addition, Mr Rolinson said JLL consulted Omega, one of its clients, and using their evidence, the equivalent figure for Parkside would be 1,669 jobs.
“We are clearly being conservative with the figures,” Mr Rolinson said.
“We have heard about the Amazon unit at Haydock and we have been assured that the figures quoted in the press at the time many months ago were about the number of jobs created at that time and did not reflect the final job number.”
Mr Rolinson said the Parkside site sits in a “state of decay” and said the scheme will deliver “transformational change” for the site and the community.
He added that JLL has worked hard to “minimise and mitigate” the impacts of this change.
Later in the meeting, St Helens Conservative leader Allan Jones questioned the quality of the jobs that would be brought to the site.
Coun Jones said: “It all boils down to the fact, does St Helens need more sheds? More low-paid jobs?
“St Helens really needs high-skilled jobs. We need more jobs of that calibre.
“We cannot keep building sheds, building sheds, building sheds for low-paid employment.
“The development at Florida Farm has shown just what destruction has been caused to the green belt.
“That again, if we have it here then where else? All for the sake of building sheds. Sheds, sheds – more sheds.”
The Rainford councillor’s comments prompted accusations of “middle-class snobbery” from Labour’s Andy Bowden.
Coun Bowden, the former cabinet member for balanced development, said: “When someone sees a shed, I see work. I see employment.
“I see mortgages and rent being paid. I see food on the table of families.
“To dismiss the logistics industry in such a manner when very many people in this borough benefit from the logistics industry, through ether work or having their parcels delivered to their homes through it, is disingenuous and frankly – snobbery.”
Liberal Democrat councillor David Smith, who represents the Newton ward, spoke against the plans in the public speakers’ section of the meeting.
Coun Smith said since being elected in May, the proposal for Parkside has been the “major concern” residents have contacted him about.
“As councillors, we should listen to the people who elected us,” Coun Smith said.
“Last May the leader of this council said we need to listen to the public.
“Perhaps now would be a good time to start and listen to the views and concerns of the people of Newton-le-Willows and say no to this proposal.”
The council received 667 independent letters of objections in relation to the plans.
Since the agenda was published the council received an additional 22 letters.
The main concerns relate to the development being on green belt land, as well as the impact it will have on the local road network.
Several people registered to speak against the proposals on Monday night.
Dave Tyas, co-chairman of Parkside Action Group, raised a number of objections.
Mr Tyas described the traffic assessment as “wholly inadequate” and the air quality assessment linked to it as “wholly inappropriate”.
He urged the committee to refuse the application on several grounds, including a lack of compliance with planning policy and the loss of green belt and green space.
Melanie Hale, the council’s service manager for development and building control, said the development is “inappropriate and harmful” by definition.
She said it would have a significant impact on the openness of the green belt and would see an increase in traffic, although it would not meet the test of ‘severe’ that would justify refusal.
Ms Hale said there would be some harm to air quality and heritage assets, including a registered battlefield, and said there would be an adverse impact on visual amenity in some locations, particularly in Winwick Road.
However, she said there is an “identified and significant need” to deliver employment land in St Helens, including large-scale logistics, and said it is the view of the planning authority that “very special circumstances” do exist that outweigh the harm to the green belt and any other harm.
Ms Hale said: “This site is deliverable, attractive to the market and would make an important contribution.
“There is no single site within the urban area capable of delivering comparable economic, social and environmental benefits.
“This contribution to employment land is important.”
Outline planning permission was granted following a recorded vote, subject to numerous conditions and a section 106 agreement.
All opposition councillors on the committee voted against the application.
Due to the size of the scheme, it has been referred to the secretary of state.
A reserved matters planning application is expected to be submitted at a later date.