THE planning battle over Eddie Stobart’s bid to build a National Distribution Centre on Green Belt Land at Appleton Thorn is set to rage on with growing demands for it to be called in by the Secretary of State.
South Warrington Parish Councils Local Plan Working Group, a group of 6 Parish Councils collaborating in the presentation of representations to the emerging Warrington Local Plan and strategically significant development proposals, has written a letter urging that the Secretary of State should exercise powers available to him under the provisions of Section 77 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 to call in the application for determination rather than to leave such matters for the WBC.
Chairman of the group Cllr Clifford Taylor has written to the Planning Casework Unit saying: “There are many grounds in this particular matter for the Secretary of State to call in the decision and for a public inquiry to be held to enable full and proper consideration of the application and the appeal.
Those grounds include:
•The application proposals are of a strategically significant scale.
•The application site is adjacent to boundaries and impacts upon land and the highway networks within the boundaries of Cheshire East, and Cheshire West and Chester Councils.
•The site is located within the designated Green Belt – Warrington Core Strategy 2014 plan period to 2027 – Green Belt maintained to 2032.
•The Council promotes the site in the emerging Warrington Local Plan – Proposed Submission Version March 2019 – the emerging plan is at an advanced stage in terms of the Council’s commitment to enabling development on land which includes the application site. Whilst content is disputed, the evidence base produced by the Council is heavily relied upon by the applicants. There is concern that this undermines the public’s confidence in the plan making process which should lead the planning system [NPPF §15].
•This is a substantial and significant development. The site is included within land to which the WBC has committed considerable resource to justify its removal from the Green Belt and designation as employment land. This has been done in the preparation of the Proposed Submitted Version of the emerging Local Plan. There is considerable justification for public concern that the determination of this application will prejudge consideration of the emerging local plan.
•There is concern that the application should be determined in isolation from a related proposal for land also designated for employment use in the emerging development plan.
•WBC has acquired freehold ownership of the site currently occupied by the headquarters of the applicant, ESL. Within the submissions made by the applicant it is suggested that the failure to secure planning permission may result in the relocation of this headquarters facility. This would clearly not be in WBC’s best interests. In the interests of transparency WBC should not be responsible for a planning decision which is of such consequence to for WBC itself.
•The development impacts upon the strategic highway network, particularly J20 of the M6 with the M56. The officer report suggests that Highways England are still making assessments that would “hopefully” provide an outline of a phased scheme which “could” identify suitable works and phases to mitigate for this development.
•Conditions suggested by the Highways England (HE) are questionable in terms of the tests expected by §55 NPPF.
•Conditions suggested by the HE are omitted from officer consideration.
•The consideration of the application to date, by the WBC is flawed and fails to properly consider a number of detailed issues including inter alia, air quality, compensatory biodiversity provision, the impact of earthworks and excavation, travel to work patterns, independent appraisal of economic benefits.
•Whilst not necessarily a matter for the Secretary of State, it is considered that the application was poorly presented to members of the Management Development Committee, who received factually incorrect and misleading advice during the course of their deliberations.
“This list is not exclusive and there is a range of concerns and issues over the manner in which both applications and the live appeal have been handled, but I would contend that the matters highlighted above would fully justify the ‘call-in’ of this application and consideration by the Secretary of State through a public inquiry.”
Meanwhile others have voiced their disappointment and anger over the planning committee’s decision.
Warrington South MP Faisal Rashid said: “I was deeply disappointed to hear that Warrington Borough Council’s Development Management Committee voted to approve the Eddie Stobart application last night.
“The development is significant in size, will dominate the local landscape and will result in the loss of a sizable area of the Green Belt. A large number of residents had made it very clear that they oppose this application, as had I.
“Locally and nationally we have declared climate emergencies. These declarations demand urgent and radical action to reduce our carbon footprint. Not only will this application remove land from the Green Belt – it will increase traffic and air pollution in the area. This runs counter to what we are trying to achieve in tackling our climate concerns.
“I have been actively supporting a brownfield-first approach to development to protect these much-loved green spaces. Giving way on the release of Green Belt, no matter how small, surely only makes safeguarding these much-loved sites more difficult in the future.
“This decision undermines the whole planning process. The application presupposes that the land will be earmarked for development in the town’s Local Plan. But that document has not yet been finalised, nor has it been scrutinised by a planning inspector. It is highly inappropriate to proceed with development plans for a site that currently enjoys a protected status.
“I am now writing, as a matter of urgency, to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, to ask that he undertakes an immediate review of the decision taken by Warrington Borough Council’s Development Management Committee.
“Locally, I will continue to fight tooth and nail against proposals which seek to develop our Green Belt and, I will continue to campaign alongside local people for the protection of these much-loved green spaces.”
Conservative Prospective MP Andy Carter said; “The decision is further evidence that Warrington’s Labour Councillors are out of touch with the views of residents they were elected to serve.
“To see Councillors send substitutes for such an important decision and to hear one particular Councillor ask a question about where the site was located shows they hadn’t read their briefing papers and hadn’t been on a site visit to see how the lorries travelling to this hub would impact on the community who live nearby. This isn’t how Planning Committee Meetings should be conducted, if the Councillors don’t know where the site is you can be almost certain they won’t have considered the 1,300 objections submitted from local residents.”
“Aside to the development in the green belt, where there should be a presumption of refusal, government planning policy deals with the issue of applications made before a local plan is approved. To refuse planning permission on the grounds of prematurity is rarely permitted when a Local plan has been submitted for Examination by the Inspector. Warrington’s Local Plan is still emerging, we are still some months away from the plan being submitted for Inspection and having taken QC guidance on this matter I cannot understand how Officers reached the conclusion they did. This is particularly relevant knowing that the Council have also received an application from Langtree for a distribution park at Junction 21 of the M6 which they will need to consider shortly, these two developments will account for around 80% of allocated employment land in the new plan and would render the process of consulting useless, something guidance in .Prematurity was designed to prevent from happening.
“I’ve written to Robert Jenrick MP, the new Secretary of State to ask him to call this decision in for review given the scale and impact on the wider area. I’ve also been in contact with my Conservative Colleague and Taton MP Esther McVey, given the impact that this development will have on the roads in her constituency, to work with her to ensure the Secretary of State is fully briefed on the concerns of local people.”
Lib Dem Prospective MP Ryan Bate said: “As the ward councillor for this development I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Local Government to ask them to review this application and hopefully actually follow Green Belt policy and kick this into touch.
“Furthermore given the frankly disgraceful conduct of some councillors and officers at the meeting, I am currently consulting colleagues at the Local Government Association with a view to making a formal complaint around conduct in public office.”