A residents group chair said they have been left “dismayed” after planning inspectors gave broad backing to controversial plans for hundreds of homes to be built on green belt land.
Rossendale’s Local Plan – which was first submitted in 2018 and has cost Rossendale council around £740,000 – has been approved by the Planning Inspectorate, subject to dozens of modifications.
It is expected to be approved by full council next week.
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In their findings, published in papers ahead of next Wednesday evening’s crucial meeting, the inspectors conclude that “exceptional circumstances” do exist to justify the release of land from the Green Belt, which covers around 20 per cent of the borough, to deliver identified housing and employment needs in Rossendale.
Land is to be released from the green belt to deliver five housing sites – land west of Market Street and land east of Market Street in Edenfield; Edenwood Mill; Irwell Vale Mill; and Cowm Water Treatment Works, Whitworth.
Three new employment sites which will involve green belt releases include land north of Hud Hey; New Hall Hey and the extension to Mayfield Chicks.
The borough’s largest single-site housing allocation for 400 new houses is located in Edenfield.
Edenfield Community Neighbourhood Forum say they have challenged the “disproportionate” level of growth, and substantial loss of green belt at every stage of the four-year process.
Chair Ian Lord said: “Under the plan 456 homes would be built in the village, with 400 on the greenfield site between the A56 bypass and Market Street/Blackburn Road.
“The council propose 50 per cent growth for the village, compared with 10pc growth for the whole borough. More than 1,200 objections were lodged during the public consultation in summer 2018.
“The forum recognises the need for housing and doesn’t object to proportionate growth in Edenfield.
“But green belt is for everyone, not just local residents. It is meant to be permanent. There is simply no justification for destroying it to meet an exaggerated housing requirement.”
Mr Lord questioned the suitability of the site next to the by-pass.
“As well as the green belt there are serious issues around highways infrastructure, education, cultural heritage and land stability, all unresolved,” he added.
“We are dismayed that our arguments have simply not been addressed but we hope that at this late stage the council will see reason and protect the green belt.
“Otherwise the plan could be challenged in court and set aside as not being sound.”
The inspectors conclude: “It is established under Issues 4 and 7 that exceptional circumstances exist to release land from the green belt and that the proposed Edenfield allocations are justified, effective and consistent with national policy Accordingly, it is concluded that the Edenfield housing requirement figure is soundly based.”
Council leader Alyson Barnes addressed the Local Plan in her monthly Rossendale Free Press column.
She said: “The new local plan is due to be formally adopted at our council meeting on December 15.
“Many of you have taken a keen interest in the formation of the plan which has been an ongoing part of the council’s work for a number of years now.
“Councils all over the country have a legal duty to put in place a plan that looks at the housing and employment needs of an area for the next 15 years.
“These plans should also help health and education providers to plan future services in Rossendale too.
“Clearly all of this is designed to ensure that there is enough of the right type of housing available to those who wish to buy or rent them at any one time.
“Many of you will know just how hard it can be finding the right thing, especially given Rossendale’s growing popularity.
“Pressure is like never before to build houses and much of the discretion councils once had in determining planning applications locally has been lost due to dic-tat dished out by central government.
“These days the whole system seems to favour the developer, although I am sure they would argue otherwise.
As Rossendale is part of a two-tier council area, we are also reliant on the county council to identify highways and flooding concerns.
“This means that if issues are not raised by LCC in their capacity of the highways authority or lead strategic flood authority then we can not refuse planning applications on highways or flooding grounds.
“This aspect of the process can be incredibly frustrating given the very real challenges we face as a borough.
“The council could refuse more planning applications, but we know that the framework we have to work within is rigid, and refusing applications without sufficient planning grounds would result in the application being approved on appeal and costs, often amounting to tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds being awarded against the council.
“The adoption of the local plan will do two things.
Firstly it will help us to fend off unwanted and unplanned local development.
“Having a newly adopted plan is very powerful when it comes to fighting planning appeals.
“It will also enable the council to adopt further planning support documents that will help our area, these documents will address issues like climate change and design standards. Issues we know concern many of our residents.”
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