CAMPAIGNERS are ‘absolutely dismayed’ that a popular footpath in Lees is set to be replaced by a culvert and significant landfill with 96 steps, making it inaccessible for many in the community.
The public path diversion is proposed for Footpath 26 to make way for a new road as part of a major development by Russell Homes of 265 homes off Knowls Lane.
Planning permission was granted in July 2019 for the homes and road and was upheld in December 2020 after Save Our Valleys (SOV) launched a judicial review.
The change of taking the footpath, which currently runs adjacent to the brook, over an elevated road with 48 steps on either side was passed as part of the planning application.
It was then approved at the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) panel meeting last month when councillors voted 3-2 in favour, overturning concerns from the campaign group and residents.
Speaking at the meeting, resident Jane Barker said: “The stepped route unfairly discriminates not only against those with mobility problems but also prevents the elderly and people with toddlers and pushchairs from using Footpath 26.
“Russell Homes promised to make the footpath network more accessible, yet access to Footpath 26 will actually be worse than it is now for many of our local residents.
“The stepped diversion will be a permanent obstacle, leaving many of our local community excluded from the small area of green space that will be left after the development is built.
“Russell Homes state that they chose the stepped route to prevent the loss of 20 low-quality trees with a relatively short lifespan. But they are only too happy to cut down ancient woodland to build the road and the development.“The information submitted by Russell Homes clearly indicates that a sloping, winding path is possible which would resolve all accessibility issues.
“When in the 21st century we are presented with the opportunity to make the public right of way more inclusive and improve accessibility to the remaining vital green space, surrounding area and local shops and services, why would anyone settle for and endorse anything less?”
Cllr Mark Kenyon, who is councillor for the ward, raised his concerns that the steps will affect people long into the future.
“If a more accessible path could be put in then it should be done,” he said.
“48 steps up and 48 steps down will cut off that path for many people and the inequality it will cause will last for generations to come. It will be a permanent obstacle.”
However, a Russell Homes representative said that other footpaths in the area have steps and this option would have less impact on the environment.
“The steps give an increased route of only 12m,” he explained. “A zig zag ramp up the valley side would be 323m longer. It would have a greater environmental impact as we would need to remove more trees, impact the flora and fauna.
“There will be steps, like other paths in the area. Other routes are steep, with steps and stiles and ground issues.
“This is the shortest route to deliver the link road and the houses with the minimum environmental impact. We believe on balance it is the best proposal.”
But panel members Cllr Chris Gloster and Cllr Max Woodvine said a ramp was their preferred option to make the path accessible to as many people as possible.
Cllr Woodvine said: “They have shown the ramp is possible so we should use that as it is more accessible. We should do it when we have the option.
“They are already going to chop down ancient woodland so a few more trees will not make a big difference.”
Cllr Gloster, who visited the site with panel chair Cllr Peter Davis, said: “There are some parts of the footpath which are accessible but also some that are inaccessible.
“But I am satisfised that parts are currently accessible but wouldn’t be if steps were put in.”
Cllr Davis questioned the impact on the planning permission if they turned down the TRO and Alan Evans, solicitor at Oldham Council, confirmed a new application would need to be submitted.
Cllr Woodvine proposed the order be refused, seconded by Cllr Gloster, but that was defeated 3-2, with Councillors Briggs, Salamat and Davis voting against.
The votes were then reversed to give 3-2 on the Order being approved so it will now go out to public consultation.
If there are any objections, it will be sent to the Secretary of State for determination but if there are none, the Order will be confirmed by officers or at the next TRO panel meeting.
Save Our Valleys said: “We are absolutely dismayed with this decision, although not entirely surprised given Oldham Council’s track record on dealing with this development’s application since 2017.
“We can’t believe that despite the objections and strong evidence presented to support the rejection of the stepped proposal, Cllrs Briggs, Salamat and Davis still voted for the less inclusive option, despite knowing full well a better option was available.
“More worryingly the chair appeared to have a complete lack of understanding about the role of the TRO panel, as he handled it just like a planning application, despite confirmation from OMBC solicitor Alan Evans that this was a completely separate process and they were entirely within their rights to refuse the order.
“We must thank ward councillors, who have worked on this, especially Cllr Mark Kenyon, who again alongside local resident Mrs Jane Barker, both delivered impressive and knowledgeable speeches against the proposal, clearly explaining the benefits a sloped ramp approach would have for the community.”
“A decision made in 2022 will now limit the use of the little remaining green space forever due to these councillors valuing the developer’s financial interest above that of residents.”