A link road connecting the derelict Parkside Colliery in Newton-le-Willows to the M6 Motorway could boost the borough’s economy by more than £400m a year, council chiefs have claimed.
This week St Helens Council’s planning committee granted planning permission to build a single carriageway road that would link the A49 Winwick Road to the A579 Winwick Lane, enabling access to Junction 22 of the M6.
The application, which was originally submitted by St Helens Council in March 2018, says the project would cost approximately £31.5 million, including land costs, and have an indicative construction period of approximately 21 months.
The road, which will lie in both St Helens and Warrington, would be around 3.5km long and would pass through the former Parkside Colliery via agricultural land. The development is entirely in the green belt and is also along a northern edge of a registered battlefield.
St Helens Council argued that “very special circumstances” outweigh the substantial harm the development would cause.
Steve Littler, the council’s senior assistant director for place, growth and regulatory services, told the planning committee the Parkside link road has the potential to realise development opportunities that have been acknowledged for “decades”.
Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Mr Littler said the link road could pave the way for a strategic rail freight interchange at the Parkside site and open up the second phase of the former colliery’s regeneration.
These two things combined is forecast to deliver £417m to the local economy each year in gross value added (GVA) during the operational phase.
Mr Littler said: “Releasing this potential has however been stymied through a lack of sustainable infrastructure that can only be brought forward through public sector intervention.
“This application does just that by providing the road infrastructure to transform the derelict Parkside Colliery site into a new, sustainable employment park that will deliver substantial social and economic benefits for St Helens and the wider sub-region.
“In addition, there is a further aspiration to develop land to the east of the M6 as a strategic rail freight interchange that has the potential to receive trains from all directions.
“The catalyst for development is the Parkside link road as it will provide direct access to the M6 via junction 22.”
Mr Littler said that, with £24m already secured from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the scheme is now fully designed and ready to be implemented.
Labour’s Richard McCauley, cabinet member for economic regeneration and housing, said the link road turns the strategic rail freight interchange “from a possible to a probable”.
Coun McCauley said: “I think it’s really exciting, what this site could unlock.
“I think it stacks up as it is, but the potential it’s unlocking is phenomenal.
“And something we’ve campaigned long and hard for, a rail freight terminal, this is the key to unlocking that and great growth for the borough of the back of that.”
Coun Allan Jones, leader of the St Helens Conservatives, said he could not support the proposals and did not think very special circumstances applied.
“This is a road that is going to systematically destroy the green belt, one way or another,” Coun Jones said.
“I do not believe there are special circumstances surrounding this road.”
The council initially received 243 independent letters of objection to the plans, which focus largely on green belt and highways concerns.
Since publication of the agenda for Tuesday night’s planning meeting, 22 more letters have been received.
A number of residents registered to speak against the proposal.
Dave Tyas, co-chairman of Parkside Action Group, rejected claims from the applicant that the Parkside link road will alleviate traffic in the local area.
He also said the traffic assessment, in terms of transparency to the public, was “next to useless”.
Mr Tyas said: “We’ve certainly heard some stories in our community about the link road being there to somehow alleviate traffic within the local area.
“There’s obviously some evidence that it might alleviate some traffic at Winwick in the short-term.
“But as the development moves along its route, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that actually it will very quickly deteriorate and end up in quite a mess actually, in Newton-le-Willows.”
Liberal Democrat councillor David Smith, ward councillor for Newton, also spoke as a public speaker, urging the committee to reject the proposals.
Planning officer Melanie Hale, the council’s service manager for development and building control, said the development is “inappropriate” as it is in the green belt and would cause “substantial harm”
However, she said very special circumstances do apply that outweigh the harm to the green belt and any other harm.
The development would make delivery of phase 2 of the Parkside regeneration and a rail freight interchange “more acceptable” in planning terms, Ms Hale said, thus making it more deliverable.
Ms Hale said: “There is a significant need for employment land in St Helens and the delivery of this site is made more likely by allowing the proposed road.
“It would also deliver some social and economic benefits.
“The contributions to facilitating the delivery of employment land is significant and it outweighs considerable harm to the green belt and any other harm.”
The planning authority recommended that planning permission be granted.
Planning permission was approved subject to the secretary of state not intervening and subject to numerous conditions.
All opposition councillors on the committee voted against the application.
Warrington Borough Council’s planning committee granted planning permission for their section of the Parkside link road at its meeting on Wednesday evening.