CONTROVERSIAL plans for 265 homes and a £3.5million link road will now be built on protected open land in Oldham despite opposition from thousands of residents.
The green light for the development at Knowls Lane in Lees, Springhead and Grotton is a u-turn as the committee had refused the original hybrid application last November.
However, Russell Homes submitted a second application which was heard at an extraordinary planning meeting in June.
Despite recommendation for refusal by Saddleworth Parish Council’s planning committee, the application was approved by Oldham as a majority of members voted in favour.
Only three councillors – John Hudson, Garth Harkness and Diane Williamson – voted against the plans, with Saddleworth Parish Councillor George Hulme backing their plans.
An appeal launched against the first decision was due to be heard later in July but is now expected to be cancelled.
The decision was met with anger from the public gallery, as more than 100 protestors attended the meeting carrying signs and placards bearing the slogan ‘save our valleys’.
As voting took place, an objector shouted that the committee was ‘playing with people’s lives’ and another added ‘shame on you’.
Confusion over the vote only served to inflame tensions in the council chamber which prompted shouts of ‘shambles’ and ‘amateurs’.
Officers had recommended approval after they ruled the initial reasons for refusal over concerns about the loss of the open land no longer outweighed the council’s dwindling housing supply.
Half of the 15hectare site was already allocated for housing, but the remainder was deemed ‘other protected open land’ (OPOL) – which the planning inspector ruled in 2011 was ‘imperative’ to be retained.
Stephen Irvine, head of planning, told the chamber not enough homes are being built in Saddleworth and Lees and the council could not demonstrate it could meet a five-year housing supply in the borough.
This meant the ‘weight’ given to protecting the OPOL site was less than the importance of getting new ‘sustainable development’.
But Save our Valleys objectors said the development would pile pressure on local services and would cause a ‘severe’ loss of wildlife.
“It would bring a potentially dangerous road to the area with more traffic and therefore damage to the environment and health,” they said.
“It would cause the loss of valuable green space, one of the few places in our community used for recreation and exercise. No amount of tree planting will prevent the harm that will be done.
“This development is not suited for this site. It would harm the community and change the characteristics of the villages of Lees, Springhead, and Grotton forever.”
Saddleworth West and Lees ward Councillor Stephen Hewitt also addressed the committee to argue against the plans.
“The community see a glorious green space and an area valued for generations, unfortunately developers just seen the pound signs,” he said.
“We as the elected should fight this with everything that we have. If not, why are we even here?”
Thomas Relph, the planning and land manager at Russell Homes, said there was ‘considerable demand’ for houses from first time buyers in the area.
The construction of the link road would meet a ‘long term aspiration’ of the council and address a ‘historic bottleneck’ and alleviate congestion, he added.
The developer had guaranteed the nearby St Agnes Primary School with space to expand, and would provide 60 affordable homes
But Cllr Garth Harkness said the plans to build into the half of the site designated as protected were ‘greedy’ and will ‘ruin’ the OPOL.
He continued: “Last time we had serious concerns about the link road and none of those have been addressed.”
Cllr John Hudson added: “Whether you call it OPOL or call it green belt or call it what you want – I say why aren’t you knocking these mills down and building on brownfield sites?
“This is becoming our Brexit – you keep making us vote on it until you get the answer you want.
“I want to know why we were not lectured about the housing requirements at our last meeting when we were considering an application in Royton. Or is it one rule for there and one for Saddleworth?”