A new approach to development is needed in St Helens so the whole borough can unite behind a positive vision for the future.
That’s the view of a campaign group who say in the 18 months since St Helens Council unveiled its hugely controversial development plan it has caused widespread concern and division.
They also say the council has failed to offer any evidence to prove why protected land has to be lost.
Rainford Action Group says St Helens should follow other councils, and the advice of expert opinion, and accept there is no justification for building on green belt land. Instead, campaigners say the council needs to put forward a positive vision for the future the whole borough can support.
James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “It’s nearly 18 months since St Helens Council launched its Local Plan, in which they outlined their desire to go against decades of local planning policy and destroy swathes of the borough’s protected land.
“Since that time, there has been ample opportunity for the council to make its case. But it has failed to do so. The council has not offered a shred of credible evidence that housing need is so great in St Helens that protected land should be built on. Nor have they come up with one convincing argument that their approach is the right one. A rethink is 18 months overdue.
“The concern these development plans have inevitably caused are not what the borough needs. It’s time St Helens Council put forward a positive vision for the future all the communities of the borough can unite behind. We need an inspiring, evidence-based outlook that could create a better St Helens; a vision that brings people together not one that creates division and disputes.”
The Rainford Action Group disputes the need for 1,140 new homes to be built in the village. It says high-quality farmland has been identified for housing and if the plan went ahead it would increase the size of Rainford by a third.
Mr Wright added: “The council’s housing demand claims clearly lack credibility and anyone who knows the borough will know it is obviously wrong to suggest housing demand is outstripping supply to the extent that precious farmland needs to be destroyed.
“In this borough, home-ownership is above the regional and national average. The population is falling, there are thousands of empty homes and developers have permission to build thousands of new homes already but are choosing not to presumably because of a lack of demand.
“St Helens Council has had 18 months to justify their Local Plan. Where is the evidence housing need in St Helens is as high as they say? There isn’t any. That’s now clear. So it’s time for a new plan.”
Mr Wright cites changes to local plans in neighbouring boroughs, with Greater Manchester major Andy Burnham calling for greater development in town centres.
He went on: “Neighbouring authorities have made clear they will keep precious land protected and won’t allow housing policy to be dictated by speculative property developers.
“The national debate around housing is changing as people learn more about how the housing market works. St Helens Council risks being seen as on the side of speculative housing developers against the will of the people and expert opinion.”