Campaigners vow to ‘fight on’ despite losing legal challenge against 265-home plan for Springhead

By Aimee Belmore and Charlotte Green (Local Democracy Reporter)

DETERMINED campaigners say they will ‘fight on’ despite losing their legal challenge against plans to build 265 homes and a £3.5million link road at Knowls Lane in Springhead.

The application for judicial review was brought forward by Stephen Hewitt on behalf of Save Our Valleys campaign group against Oldham Council in relation to the application submitted by Russell Homes.

A plan of the Knowls Lane development

Mr Justice Julian Knowles heard the application for judicial review virtually on July 28, with the claim brought on four grounds.

Handing down his judgement on December 18, he rejected all four grounds of challenge and so the application for judicial review was dismissed.

But Mr Hewitt, who is a Saddleworth West and Lees councillor, insisted Save Our Valleys will fight on to save the space, which stretches between Springhead, Grotton and Lees.

“We are obviously disappointed with the outcome – nonetheless, as part of a long-running campaign and extensive battle, the developer had a very narrow win,” he said.

“However, what this has shown is that we have people who are willing to come together and fight for a common cause and stand up for what is right for the place they have made home for now and future generations.

“We are considering several options moving forward, in the short term to appeal the decision from the judge and also exploring many more options in the longer term.

“The legal team have been incredible, the community spirit has been amazing and the committee have been unbelievable in their tenacity and bravery in facing the barriers involved fighting a legal case that was difficult to say the least and one that we all believe in. It isn’t over and we will fight on.”

Oldham Council has been approached for a comment but has not yet replied.

The council’s planning committee initially refused the hybrid planning application in November 2018 but a second application was approved in July 2019.

Russell Homes said the proposal would bring much-needed homes to the area as well as £11.3m into the local economy but more than 2,000 people had put forward objections.

Save Our Valleys had raised more than £40,000 in donations to launch the legal challenge against the decision, applying for a judicial review to be held into the case.

At the application hearing Oldham Council was the defendant, represented by the borough’s group solicitor Alan Evans, with Russell Homes represented as an interested party.

Save Our Valleys appointed Irwin Mitchell as their legal team and Philippa Jackson presented the argument against the planning approval.

This was that the 2019 planning report had ‘significantly misled the committee’ and that officers did not give sufficient weight to the ‘harm to the valued landscape’.

It was also argued that members had ‘erred in law’ by failing to give ‘any weight’ to the less than substantial harm to the Lydgate Conservation Area as part of the planning balance.

It also claimed members of the panel had failed to consider how the development would mitigate the impacts of climate change or ‘contribute positively to the objective of moving to a low carbon economy’.

However in his written judgement, Justice Knowles rejected all the grounds of challenge.

On the landscape impact he stated: “Close and adjacent to the Wharmton Undulating Uplands the site might be, it is not within it, and the Uplands will not therefore be directly affected by the development in the same way as was concluded in 2018.

“On any view, the harm would not be direct harm in the way it would if the Uplands were themselves to be built upon.”

On the issue of the policy around Other Protected Open Land (OPOL) being out of date, and therefore having less weight according to planning officers compared to the five-year housing land supply, he stated this seemed to be a ‘matter of common sense’.

“There was, it seems to me, no ‘automaticity’ in the officers’ reasoning in the manner suggested by the claimant, but that they reached the conclusion they did pursuant to a careful exercise of planning judgment that took into account all of the relevant matters,” Justice Knowles stated. “Their conclusion was not perverse.”

He stated that in both the 2018 and 2019 reports the ‘less than significant harm to heritage assets was acknowledged’.

Despite ‘attractive submissions’ he also rejected ground three, regarding the impact of climate change and the argument that planning officers had overlooked the need for an energy statement, which Justice Knowles described as ‘implausible’.

“It is scarcely credible that the council could have failed to have in mind such crucially important planning matters such as the need for sustainability, energy conservation, and mitigation of climate change,” he stated.

In his judgement Justice Knowles stated: “I fully understand that there is considerable local strength of feeling about the development, and that a lot of, if not most, local people oppose it.

“The way in which the meeting was conducted generated a large number of complaints, as explained by the claimant in his witness statement.

“A subsequent council investigation acknowledged that the decision-making process had been visibly ‘chaotic’.”

However he added that his ‘sole task’ was to rule whether the council’s decision was a lawful one, and not ‘whether the development is a good or bad idea’.

Subsequently the application for judicial review was dismissed.

The full judgement can be read online:

4 Replies to “Campaigners vow to ‘fight on’ despite losing legal challenge against 265-home plan for Springhead”

  1. Good. Get it built. Every single person objecting to this lives in a houses that was built on green fields. Why is OK for them but not for others? And anyway, hardly anyone uses these fields anyway, they’re just narrow-minded NIMBYs. My partner and I are going to buy one of these houses and bring our kids up here, every area needs new blood to survive.

  2. SOV state that the whole community are against this project, well let me tell you they are not . The plans for this development are excellent, The majority of the valley will stay in tact providing dog walkers and families to enjoy their walks etc . It is the fields, that will have the houses built on them and the proposed road is long overdue .

  3. Hello there my name is David I am 82 years old and I live on Rhodes Hill. The new houses will be right behind my house and I am only too happy to have them built here. When I moved here in 1953 the area wasn’t very pleasant and every time new houses are built new people move in to the area and make it better and brighter. I’ve met so many nice new people who relocated here. Please don’t blame us old people for protesting many of us are happy to see these progressive changes

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