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Public inquiry: Haulage giant Eddie Stobart has no plan B if £75m Green Belt plan rejected

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HAULIERS Eddie Stobart say they have no “plan B” if their controversial plans to build a £75m National Distribution Centre on Green Belt land in south Warrington is rejected by the Secretary of State.

At the opening of a public inquiry at Warrington Town hall into an appeal by Liberty Properties and Eddie Stobart Ltd (ESL) against planning refusal, QC Paul Tucker, said an appeal had been lodged and a fresh application submitted to “continue to secure consent with all due expedition.

“This is for two reasons, firstly because the finance was in place to deliver these proposals and secondly the need for ESL is an acute one. Equally important there is simply no plan B.”

He added: “There just aren’t the sites to enable this scheme to progress elsewhere. To be blunt had there been obvious, realist and rationally available alternatives, then ESL would have pursued such an avenue already.”

He also argued that since members of the planning committee had now voted to approve the second application and that officers had twice consistently accepted that special circumstances had been demonstrated and that “democratically elected representatives of the area have also arrived at that conclusion.”

This sparked outrage from local councillors, with not a single elected councillor in the area voting in favour of the application.

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.

The appeal is being based on the second planning application approved by the borough council earlier this year, which relates to be main structure being reduced by half a metre and an additional £100k Sec 106 agreement including local training and employment provisions.

Mr Tucker said the proposals involved special circumstances to build on Green Belt  as it would create 480 full time staff, in addition to the 650 currently employed by Warrington’s 6th largest business, rising to 950 jobs being created in the local economy.

The proposal would add £25m Gross Value to the North West economy, of which £18m would be net additional. The construction phase would also create 240 jobs.

The capital investment of £75m included £6m in respect of highways and transportation measures.

The formal position of Warrington Borough Council is that the appeal should be allowed and planning permission be granted. As a result the council is not calling any evidence to the inquiry but has said officers will be available to offer knowledge and suitable expertise in response to any queries.

Six parish councils in the south of the borough have teamed up to form the The South Warrington Parish Councils’ Local Plan Working Group (SWP), employing planning consultant John Groves and QC Piers Riley-Smith, to oppose the application along with local residents’ groups, local and local councillors.

The hearing heard that the SWP in the south of the borough showed an “unprecedented level of co-operation” showing the strength of feeling against the propsals which they claim will have a devatating impact on the Green Belt.

They argue it is premature ahead of the council’s Local Plan and the creation of jobs and investment does not compensate the loss of geren belt, with increased traffic and pollution problems.

Local parish Cllr Gerry Palmer said: “If granted, this application will generate high volumes of traffic on the outskirts of Appleton Thorn and Grappenhall, and further add to the high volumes of HGV’s on Warrington’s motorway network. Despite the applicant’s assertions to the contrary, we believe this development WILL have an adverse impact on Air Quality. The site is located within one km of two Air Quality Management Areas, both declared for the exceedance of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). It is also worth noting that the site is a mere 640 metres away from the local nursery and primary school at Appleton Thorn.

“I would like to briefly explain why poor air quality is such an important issue in Warrington. Our unique geography and infrastructure create a perfect storm — the M6, the M62 and the M56 surround the town. Within those motorway boundaries, traffic is often unable to disperse because of the bottlenecks created by narrow Victorian crossings over the two canals and the Mersey, all of which bisect the town. When any one of the these motorways are shut, as happens almost daily, traffic diverts through Warrington, creating further gridlock and increasing pollution.

“Our greatest air quality concerns are from Nitrogen dioxide, and PM2.5 because they are both so damaging to human health. The council’s JSNA estimates that at least 145 people die early in Warrington every year because of air pollution, not to mention chronic illness.

“Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs, reduces immunity to lung infections and exacerbates asthma, especially in children. NO2 is already recognised as a risk, and monitored levels have been regularly exceeded safe limits in Warrington since 2013.

“Our other concern is small particulates called PM2.5, which are ultra-fine particulates 1/20th the width of a human hair, and are a major component of HGV emissions, typical of the Stobart fleet. These tiny particulates get deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, causing cardio-vascular disease, respiratory disease, dementia and reduced life expectancy. WHO air quality data clearly shows that in 2018, Warrington had the highest levels of PM2.5 in the entire UK, higher than London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff and even New York.”

Meanwhile local resident Bill Roberts raised concerns over the ‘financial viability’ of the company saying it was now in ‘crisis.’

It had already been reported that Eddie Stobart had suspended trading of its shares and announced chief executive Alex Laffey, who had represented the company at previous hearings had been stood down with immediate effect.

Others voicing opposition include Cllr Sharon Harris, a borough Cllr. and Chair of Appleton Parish Council, local resident Kevin Macaloon from the Appleton Thorn Neighbourhood Development team and John Appleton from the Stretton Neighbourhood Development team.

The inquiry is expected to last until Thursday when a site visit is scheduled to take place.

Whatever Planning Inspector David Wildsmith recommends after hearing all the arguments for and against, the final decision will rest with the Secretary of State due to the site being a “significant green belt development.”

The proposed Eddie Stobart centre as it would look

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Experienced journalist for more than 35 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with six in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.

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