The St Helens Local Plan has been approved – despite being rejected by opposition councillors.
After securing endorsement from the Labour cabinet last week, the ‘submission draft’ version of the St Helens Local Plan: 2020-2035 went before full council last night (Wednesday).
While the proposed submission draft of the Local Plan received total support from Labour colleagues, all opposition councillors voted against the plan.
Rainford councillor and St Helens Conservative leader Allan Jones raised concerns regarding land south of Higher Lane and East of Rookery Lane in Rainford, which is earmarked for up to 259 homes.
He said the extra cars that would come with these homes would cause “traffic chaos”.
Coun Jones also opposed the inclusion of agricultural land to the West of Sandwash Close in Rainford.
The Conservative leader said the farmer who grows crops on the land has told him he would need to look for an alternative site if the land was developed, which would put his business at risk.
Coun Jones said: “This could make the whole operation uneconomical and they would have to close, with a loss of 98 jobs.”
“The Local Plan is supposed to promote industry and create jobs, not destroy them, and will do in Rainford.”
The Local Plan has gone through numerous changes since the ‘preferred options’ version was shown to the public in 2016.
In the previous version, the council allocated land to accommodate 570 housing units in the borough per annum.
The new plan proposes delivery of 486 per annum, which takes into account increased housing need due to employment growth.
Since then, two new brownfield sites, land at the Cowley Works near the town centre and the former Suttons distribution centre in Thatto Heath, have been brought forward for housing development, reducing the need for green belt release.
Currently, 65 per cent of the borough is in the green belt. The preferred options plan set out intentions to cut this to 56 per cent.
Other green belt sites that were previously earmarked for housing have also been ‘safeguarded’, which means they cannot be developed over the next 15 years.
These include the Eccleston Park Golf Club site and land south of A580 between Houghtons Lane and Crantock Grove in Windle, both of which were previously earmarked for housing.
Coun James Tasker, independent councillor for Rainhill, said safeguarded land was “nonsense” and should not be included in the plan.
He also said the plan was an “insult to the people of Rainhill and St Helens”.
Coun Tasker then took aim at Labour councillors, resulting in loud gasps throughout the council chamber.
Coun Tasker said: “One thing I have noticed about leaders past and present, as well as many ordinary councillors, is you’re constantly crying and worrying about what the Tory government will do.
“And constantly worried about what the developers will do if you don’t listen to them.
“I’ve never heard one Labour councillor ever turn round and say they are worried about the people of St Helens if they don’t listen to them.”
Liberal Democrat councillors also declared they could not support the current version of the Local Plan.
Eccleston and Lib Dem councillor Michael Haw said no green belt land should be developed until every brownfield site is identified and built upon.
Deputy council leader Andy Bowden, cabinet member for balanced development, housing and economic opportunity, said the council were “committed to its brownfield-first policy”.
Coun Bowden said: “Accepting this plan does not mean we will stop pro-actively looking to deliver on more sites.
“Indeed, I believe we will try even harder. That’s what we want to do, we want to regenerate those sites.”
Thatto Heath Labour councillor Richard McCauley said the plan was “not perfect” but said it will allow the council to fight harder for the things the community needs such as housing and jobs.
Haydock Labour councillor Martin Bond said he would support the plan, although he did have some concerns regarding infrastructure, which he said was “critical”.
Concluding, oun Bowden said: “This plan is a balanced plan for our future
“It will deliver on this council’s commitment to growth and opportunity for our communities, and I ask you to support it.”
The Local Plan was approved following a named vote.
An eight-week publication period will begin in January to allow the public to view the plan and submit representations to the council.
The plan will then be submitted to an independent planning inspector in the summer, with the council aiming to adopt the Local Plan in 2020.