St Helens Council to re-run green belt consultation

St Helens town hall
St Helens town hall

ST Helens Council will re-run a Local Plan consultation in Bold after it failed to notify residents of proposed changes to the green belt.

An eight-week publication period on the St Helens Local Plan 2020-2035 submission draft is currently open to allow members of the public to submit representations before it is sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for independent examination.

The deadline for submitting comments is this Wednesday.

However, residents were told at a community meeting at Clock Face Miners Recreation Club on Monday night that an extension has been given the green light by council chiefs.

St Helens Council has now confirmed the deadline has been extended in the Bold ward by a further eight weeks.

The development comes after campaigners wrote to the council to request an immediate extension to the publication period as it failed to write to numerous residents in Bold who live within 200m of sites that are proposed to be removed from the green belt.

Paul Sanderson, the council’s strategic director for place services, has apologised for the error.

Mr Sanderson said: “Unfortunately the council did not, as intended, mail out a letter to some residents in Bold concerning potential changes in the Local Plan.

“As part of the Local Plan process the council is helping residents to make comments to the government planning inspector.

“The residents affected live within 200 metres of the edge of a potential allocation of land, and although it is not a legal requirement for us to inform these residents, we have previously stated that we would write to residents who fall within this category.

“In this case we clearly have not done that.”

Currently there are two green belt sites in Bold that have been allocated for housing in the Local Plan.

A 133-ha site – part of the Bold Forest Garden Suburb – on land bounded by Reginald Road, Bold Road, Travers Entry, Gorsey Lane and Crawford Street, is earmarked for around 3,000 homes.

In the submission draft, construction of around 480 homes is expected on the site before 2035, with more than 2,500 homes earmarked for after 2035.

Land south of Gartons Lane in Bold has also been earmarked for around 520 homes during the Local Plan period, with 49 proposed after.

The Local Plan submission draft was approved by the Labour-run council in December, despite opposition from opposition councillors.

Around two weeks ago, concerned residents set up the Bold and Clock Face Action Group.

One of its founding members, Christopher Hughes, wrote to the council last week accusing it of failing to take all reasonable steps to notify residents affected by the proposed removal of green belt land.

Mr Hughes also said A4 notices have not been displayed on Frenchfields Crescent, Crawford St, Douglas Avenue or the surrounding residential streets.

As a result, he said, many residents are unaware of the publication of the draft Local Plan, its contents, how it affects them and the timescales in which they are able to respond.

However, St Helens Council said it published details of the changes to the Local Plan in the press, on its website and on lamp-posts, as well as holding a drop-in event locally.

On Monday night, a community meeting was organised by Bold and Clock Face Action Group to discuss a co-ordinated response to the Local Plan.

Mr Hughes told concerned residents that ward councillors Lisa Preston and John Wiseman have been assisting the group.

The Clock Face resident said he was informed of the extension by Cllr Preston prior to the meeting.

Mr Hughes said: “Thanks to everyone in here, people in the council have taken note about the feeling around here and the fact that they haven’t done what they are supposed to do, i.e. send letters to all residents, put poster forms on lampposts and articles in the local newspaper.”

During the packed meeting, numerous residents shared their concerns around the Local Plan, the green belt proposals and the impact the additional homes will have on the local infrastructure.

One elderly resident received a round of applause after giving a damning assessment of the council.

She said: “I think this Labour council has let us down badly.

“I promise now to everybody in this room – I voted Labour all my life and I will never do it again.”

Another resident defended the Labour council, reiterating that it is Tory policy for councils to produce Local Plans.

Mr Sanderson said the council will now give residents an “equal opportunity” to comment on the proposals.

He said the council will write to residents to notify them that it is extending the publication consultation by a further eight weeks.

“We are writing to all residents affected to let them know how they can make comments on the proposal and the extended timescales,” Mr Sanderson said.

“In addition, we will hold another drop-in event in the local area to enable residents to view plans.

“The council apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused to those residents.”