AFTER four hours of deliberation over two meetings a controversial planning application to build 27 homes next to the M62 off Mill Lane, Houghton Green village, was approved by planning chiefs last night (Wednesday).
Most of the time five of the Borough Councillors on the planning committee questioned Warrington Borough Council planning officers and the applicant about air quality and noise issues at the site dubbed the “fortress” by local residents.
Former committee members, Geoff Settle and John Kerr-Brown and two residents spoke against the development giving evidence about the health and safety as well as physical and mental wellbeing of people who would live at the site only meters from M62 about air quality.
Geoff said “As a public advisor to the National Institute for Health and Research for North West Universities I listened to Professor Ian Sinh (Alder Hey Children’s Hospital), who gave a talk at last year’s June forum about his experiences of children suffering from lung damage caused by traffic pollution.
“The Professor said that Traffic Pollution causes chronic lung disease and permanent damage that leads to reduced life-expectancy. The invisible particulates CANNOT be prevented from entering deep into their lungs and the houses they live in. I am horrified at this decision and the fact that this site is deemed lawful under planning laws according to WBC officers.”
A second objector Margaret Steen who lives in the village and had played a prominent role during the Peel Hall Inquiry made a strong objection focusing on the issues about noise of the heavy motorway traffic alongside the M62. She questioned the methodology of the data collection provided by WBC but was told that the process and analysis were just within tolerances by the WBC officers.
The scheme involves 27 houses – 15 of which would be three-storey townhouses and 12 would be two-storey semi-detached – on land off Mill Lane. There would also be an open amenity space.
Planning consent for six houses on part of the 1.3 hectare site was granted as far back as 1987 but was never progressed.
Officers say the land is generally overgrown with brambles and other vegetation although there also two or three abandoned sheds. It has, in the past, been used for grazing horses.
Geoff added after the meeting “Its beggar’s belief that a planning application can be made here, and two properties are within the AQMA were noise levels reach continuously peak at 85dB only 5dB off the danger to hearing. Something is seriously wrong if this is deemed to be acceptable.”
As an asthmatic Geoff suffered badly with bronchitis during the Great Smogs of the fifties. The clean air act went someway to reducing the impact of these pea-soupers. However, he argues that those conditions have been super ceded by invisible toxic clouds that killed nine-year-old asthmatic Adoo-Kissi-Debrah and damage children who are admitted into Alder Hey. Adoo was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.
The applicant claims that even without mitigation the area is safe. WBC agreed with this on technical grounds and said that provided you are not outside for an 8 hour stretch within one 24-hour period you will be okay.
Geoff made the point that if it looks and acts as a prison, then it is a prison and not a desirable home. Local residents already call the plans a fortress.
When it came to a vote the chair advised the committee that if they refused planning permissions then they had to ensure that the reasons for the refusal would be valid material considerations. He said that he had not heard any that evening that would stand up to a challenge at an appeal. He had previously advised that there had been no need for an organised site visit because “Everyone knew what a field looked like, and it is just another motorway.”
Geoff added: “I find this incredible, I always visited sites when I was on the planning committee, you learn so much about a location by going there. My former colleague on the committee Cllr Bob Bar and fellow geographer made what I thought were valid reasons, but the chair reminded him that WBC had lost on appeal, but that was at another location in a different part of the borough and each application has different issues so that Bob’s refusal reasons my stand up to appeal in this case.”
At the end of a long two-hour session the WBCs officers agreed that the planning law was acknowledged as just being met but only just. Their advice was that because WBC had recommended approval it meant that any refusal would be extremely hard, if not impossible to defend on appeal. There was also the need to meet the housing number quota set by the government.
Geoff added: “The vote was spilt between the seven labour members who said little or nothing and voted for the application and the remaining five (other parties) who had vigorously challenged the application and to a man and women voted against.
“Having said that I must point out that John Kerr Brown, labour, spoke against on behalf of his constituents, Charlotte Nichols Warrington North MP submitted evidence that was acknowledged but not readout.
“I believe that just like the Peel Hall Inquiry decision the decision sets a precedent for other planning applications across the Borough of Warrington and aspects of planning law need to be changed.”