VIDEO: CONTROVERSIAL plans by haulage company Eddie Stobart to build a major distribution centre on Green Belt land opposite their existing HQ at Appleton Thorn has been rejected by members of Warrington’s planning committee.
Members of the committee voted against officer recommendation to approve the application on the basis it was “premature” and not enough evidence to show the economic benefits outweighed the loss of green belt.
The Full Planning application (Major) by Liberty Properties Developments Ltd & Eddie Stobart consists of demolition of all existing on-site buildings and structures and construction of a National Distribution Centre building (Use Class B8) with ancillary office accommodation (Class B1(a)), vehicle maintenance unit, vehicle washing area, internal roads, gatehouse, parking areas, perimeter fencing, waste management area, sustainable urban drainage system, landscaping, highways improvements and other associated works.
The site extends to approximately 15.7 hectares in size and is currently two undeveloped, arable fields divided by a low hedgerow running from north to south.
The site falls within the Green Belt land (as defined by the Adopted Warrington Local Plan Core Strategy) between the Warrington urban area to the west and Lymm to the east. The application site lies within the Appleton Thorn Neighbourhood Plan Boundary.
Opposing the development Cllr Judith Wheeler said: “The National Planning Policy Framework states that ‘Good quality pre-application discussion enables better coordination between public and private resources and improved outcomes for the community.
‘A local planning authority cannot require that a developer engages with them before submitting a planning application, but they should encourage take-up of any pre-application services they offer.’
“Stobart’s, this ‘significant outfit’ generating £570m turnover per year from its Warrington HQ and with a proposed development that will have a massive impact on the Green Belt and local highway network did not or could not seek to engage with the local residents in Appleton Thorn, local Councillors or the Parish Councils. This is shameful and shows their arrogance and utter contempt for the local community.
“For those of you who have visited the site, you will have seen Beehive Farm, a Grade 2 Listed Building. The impact on Mr and Mrs Barber who live there is dismissed, the harm is negligible. I don’t call 40 tonne lorries thundering past your door every 2 minutes, including times when you are asleep negligible. I don’t call not being able to get in and out of your driveway negligible.
“Beehive Farm was built without foundations. What impact is this additional traffic and construction work going to have on the building?
Mrs Barber told me that when she lies in bed, she can see the tops of the lorries going past. She’s going to see them at lot more now.
“What mitigation measure have Stobart’s put in place – none. Stobart’s couldn’t even knock on the door of Mr and Mrs Barber
“At the front of your report members, Articles 8 and 1 of the Human Rights Act is quoted. This applies to one household as much as it does for many more.
“This application asks more questions than it answers and is full of if, buts and maybes.”
Meanwhile in a joint statement, local parish Cllr Gerry Palmer, who represents the Thorn ward, and local resident Kevin McAloon said: “Last year this committee supported Warrington’s first and only NDP and validated it as a legal document. If you approve this application, you, as a committee, will be overriding a plan that took 4 years to develop and which has been agreed between you, the Council and the community. This application would lead to unprecedented environmental damage – destroying green belt, unbearably increasing road congestion, and significantly reducing air quality, each with direct consequences for the people of Warrington.
“Overall Warrington’s development plan includes the adopted Thorn Ward Neighbourhood Plan. National Policy requires any development to be considered against those plans. This application contravenes several Thorn Ward NDP Policies: the Design of Development, Protecting and Enhancing Local Landscape, and New Local Employment Opportunities.
“This development does NOT make a positive contribution to local character in the area, and its size and scale are overwhelming. Rather, it destroys Green Belt land with associated local habitats and wildlife corridors; and we do NOT agree that there exists ‘very special circumstances’ (vsc) to build on Green Belt. It seems that Stobart promotes a weak economic justification which mostly serves themselves and does not meet the ‘vsc’ rigorous criteria to justify the release of Green Belt. Equally an unwelcome precedent would be set.
“Based on Stobart’s figures, there will be an unrelenting traffic flow 365days/24/7 with around 2000 vehicle movements per day including an HGV passing every 2 minutes, and many of these movements continuously through the night. Roads are already under stress at peak times. Government figures say that transport is now the most polluting sector of the economy, even ahead of the energy sector, which includes power stations. The resultant air, noise, and light pollution from this operation is unacceptable.
“We appreciate the Council’s drive for jobs and a strong local economy; the NDP supports this too. But these jobs, mostly in distribution and warehousing, are low skilled and low paid, and in such an environmentally damaging sector. Consequently we feel that the local economy will benefit only modestly.
“For clarification our NDP Team consulted the Government’s Ministry of Housing Community and Local Government- their advice: “Neighbourhood plans are an important part of the plan-led system. They provide communities with a powerful set of tools to shape the development and growth of their local area. It is important to minimize any conflicts between policies in the neighbourhood plan and those in any emerging plans.
“Therefore Warrington’s first NDP, barely a year old, consisting of hard won policies which, given this Stobart proposal, would be overridden in their attempt to fast track this application. The applicant does not put forward a strong enough case to justify our NDP being overridden.
“Our Parish Council and we as residents all trust that this committee stands by Warrington Council’s original commitment to community partnership represented by our NDP. We therefore recommend refusal.”
Cllr Bob Barr raised concerns over Stobart’s lack of consultation and asked why the applicants were not asked to consult with the local community and councillors?
While acknowledging the firm’s positive impact on the town he also raised concerns over the application being ‘secretly put together’ without consultation with the community.
Cllr David Keane raised concerns over Stobart’s paying some of their employees less than the living wage and questioned how this could be an economic benefit?
Planning consultant John Groves, a former head of Warrington’s planning department, but now representing parish councils in the south of the borough pointed out that 60 per cent of Stobart’s existing workforce came from outside the borough and there was not enough evidence to show new employees would be from the Warrington area.
Speaking in support of the application Eddie Stobart Chief Executive Alex Laffey said the company was “proud” of its links and investment in Warrington and wanted to continue to grow with a multi-million pound development.
“We currently employ 700 people at our existing site, many from the the local community.
“We ware proud of the training and development of our staff and we are continuing to invest in training programmes.
“We are ambitious for Stobarts and Warrington. We have invested in state of the art warehousing but none in the north west. After much research we have concluded this is the only suitable site. Our team has worked closely with the council’s planning officers to ensure a high quality and sustainable development.”
He also added that the council’s recent decision to invest in purchasing the existing HQ was in no way connected with this planning application. He also refuted the comments regarding salaries, stating that most drivers, after spending one year with the company, became “lifers.”