Campaigners want to recruit Greater Manchester Mayoral candidate, Andy Burnham, in their fight to keep Saddleworth greenbelt out of the clutches of Oldham Council planners.
Opposition is growing to proposed re-development of the derelict Robert Fletcher’s Paper Mill site in Greenfield as part of a 20-year scheme to build 225,000 homes across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs.
But a public meeting arranged by the Dovestone and Chew Valley Action Group expressed fears other prized Saddleworth green belt areas could be targeted if the Fletchers development is rejected or modified.
Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams, who has already spoken of her opposition to the controversial GM Spatial Framework, attended the meeting at Uppermill Civic Hall.
Public consultation for the first Framework draft finished on January 16 even though the ‘Call for Sites’ deadline wasn’t closed until February 28.
A second draft will be published by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority later this year. There will then be further consultation before the plan is submitted to the Secretary of State for independent examination in 2018.
In 2004, the Oldham Beyond report said Fletcher’s should provide a “recreational resource to the entire borough. One idea is to develop the site as a study centre for all schools in the borough with associate facilities including extreme indoor and outdoor sports, national park centre, accommodation, conference facilities and associated uses for eating and drinking.”
Officers from the Greenfield and Grasscroft Residents Association even sounded out entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson with a view to turning Fletcher’s into the ‘Eden of the North’.
“We saw it as a great opportunity to create a major environmentally sensitive project on the edge of the Peak District National Park,” said local activist Mike Rooke. “We could so something to set the world on fire.”
The Oldham Local Development Framework published in 2011 claimed Fletcher’s Mill complex would be “developed for appropriate uses.”
Opponents say building 100 holiday lodges and 120 executive style homes doesn’t constitute appropriate use and would create greater pressure on local services and infrastructure, would have serious environmental repercussions and wouldn’t provide sustainable employment.
And Mrs Abrahams said: “Since I was elected in 2011 people have been banging on my door about this subject.
“I have really warmed to the vision for the area and the opportunities it could provide. I have really bought into that.”
Greenfield resident Richard Wright told the meeting: “A lot of people are happy about the redevelopment of the mill site itself because it is a derelict mess.
“But the proposal is to build across the whole valley with high value executive homes which don’t do anything to address the housing crisis, the shortage of starter homes, the provision of retirement communities or the provision or support of any local sustainable rural environment.
“Everyone I have spoken to and it is an awful lot of people, have all said irrespective of that it will all go ahead anyway because they don’t believe Oldham Council can be trusted to represent the people they are there to represent.
“Oldham Council has to make a judgement on whether it can resist the extra council tax revenues and resist the pressure from the developers irrespective of whether, in principle, they support the greenbelt.”
Another speaker warned: “My concern is that while the Fletcher’s site is extremely serious, it is also a red herring.
“If the Council are seen to retract on Fletcher’s, there won’t be the opposition to the other greenbelt sites that are perhaps not as large but just as sensitive.
“We must be alive to the fact Fletchers isn’t the be all and end all. There is a huge plan in terms of greenbelt and it is the whole that we have got to look at as well.”
A spokesman for Saddleworth Civic Trust said: “We think the valley would be better served by high end, technical industries that, while still hidden in the valley, would be sustainable and would be good for employment in the area.
“But nothing is done to improve the access of getting in or out of Saddleworth.
“What can we do to bring all the agencies together to have a sensible, across the board discussion?
Mrs Abrahams closed the meeting by supporting the idea of a formal meeting with Oldham Council representatives to discuss residents’ concerns and to investigate the potential of also involving Andy Burnham, currently MP for Leigh.