By Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter
CONTROVERSIAL proposals to build a £3.5m link road and 265 homes on protected open land in Springhead, Grotton and Lees have been refused in a shock decision by planning chiefs.
At a heated meeting attended by more than 100 objectors, Oldham’s planning committee considered for two hours whether to support the hybrid planning application.
Around 2,500 people had objected to the plans to building a road linking Knowls Lane and Ashbrook Road, which developers Russell Homes said would help bring in £11.3m into the local economy.
Half of the 15-hectare 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.
The town hall’s officers had recommended the application for approval, arguing the harm to the landscape was outweighed by the scheme’s “significant benefits” and would help meet housebuilding pressures.
But the majority of the planning committee decided they could not support such a harmful loss of open space in the borough, which was met by cheers from jubilant campaigners.
Sue Hodgkiss, speaking on behalf of ‘Save our Valleys’ objectors, told the chamber it should remain as OPOL as the road would bring ‘major destruction’ to the natural environment.
“We realise more homes are needed but strongly feel there are major issues with this development that will be detrimental to the community,” she said.
“The scale of this development and construction of the road would result in the loss of visual amenity and would have a severe detrimental effect on the character of the neighbourhood.
“People who know this area have serious safety concerns about the link road, including bringing more traffic near a primary school.”
Planning officer Graeme Moore said it was considered the harm to heritage assets would be limited, and harm to the landscape and loss of open land was “outweighed by the scheme’s public benefits”.
Highways officer Wendy Moorhouse added the link road had been a “long-term aspiration” for the council, and the application “presents the opportunity for realising this ambition”.
Head of planning Stephen Irvine told the chamber national policy had changed since the 2011 local plan to reflect housing need, and not enough homes are being built in Saddleworth.
He stated that in the last four years the number of house completions in Saddleworth and Lees is 30 where across the rest of the Oldham borough it is 515.
Saddleworth West and Lees ward Councillor Stephen Hewitt, also a Saddleworth Parish Councillor, also addressed the committee to argue against the plans.
“The council should be taking action to radically increase brownfield developments and to bring back life to abandoned sites,” he said.
“We should not be relinquishing green areas for development.”
But speaking on behalf of Russell Homes, Gary Lynch said the link road has been a plan of the council for two decades which will tackle a “historic bottleneck” in the area.
He said they were also supporting the nearby St Agnes Primary School by giving them land enabling them to expand, and the building would provide 60 affordable homes.
But Mr Lynch said they had “no choice” but to develop across the whole site and into OPOL otherwise the multi-million-pound plans for the road would not have been viable.
He said: “We achieve the council’s aspiration of the link road at no cost to the public purse, we are transferring land to the school for their expansion, we are an award-winning house-builder delivering very high quality family homes, and affordable homes to meet local need and housing targets.”
However Cllr John Hudson asked whether they “seriously think that you’d be improving the district”, adding he believed it was about ‘profit’ rather than what was best for the area.
Cllr Mohon Ali agreed, adding: “Residents enjoy the area, going out for walks and with their dogs. What would they do and where would they go if that land is gone?
“Certainly if it were being built in my area I would find that difficult to support it.”
Cllr Shadab Qumer told the committee that he travels along Lees New Road everyday as he has children at Saddleworth School and Springhead Infants School.
He admitted: “It would be very convenient for me to cut through on a new link road to get to the schools.
“But I also know that is not the right thing to do as residents will be affected day in, day out.
“I know we need housing in Oldham but the need is not at any cost. As far as I’m concerned we’re not going to do it at the cost of the OPOL.”
Cllr Qumer moved a motion to refuse the application, which was seconded by Cllr Ali and supported by a majority of the committee on the grounds of the benefits of retaining the OPOL land outweigh the benefits of development.