Tory Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, yesterday gave the go ahead for Peel Holdings to build 350 houses on the green field site of Burgess Farm in Little Hulton/Walkden, despite the Planning Inspector recommending refusal following a Public Inquiry.
Peel Holdings appealed to Eric Pickles, following the Planning Inspector's decision. And Pickles sided with the £multi billion developers, which seems intent on exploiting every inch of land it owns in Salford, green or otherwise.
Pickles acknowledged "that development of the site would result in the permanent loss of an area of open countryside enjoyed by local people"; agreed that there would be "encroachment into the wildlife corridor" and "a significant intrusion into the setting of Walkden" and that "it would seriously degrade the character and appearance of the area and the amenities of neighbouring residents".
Pickles also accepted that the building of 350 houses would be in "clear conflict with UDP policies for the site, which support its retention as undeveloped land"; and recognised that one of the core planning principles "is to contribute to the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment".
Pickles agreed with the Planning Inspector on all this. But while the Planning Inspector recommended refusal on the basis that "the use of greenfield sites is only justified in exceptional circumstances" and "There is no pressing housing shortfall to justify the development of this site and the benefits are not sufficient to outweigh that conflict and the harm it would cause"…Pickles overturned him.
The reasons given were that there was likely to be "a significant deficiency in 5 year housing land supply…The Secretary of State considers that the proposals do, on balance, represent sustainable development, and he does not consider that the adverse impacts of allowing the development outweigh the benefits to be gained…"
Shocked residents, having won their case against Peel Holdings at a Public Inquiry, only to see it overturned by the Tory Minister, are now considering an appeal.
Tory Councillor Iain Lindley, who has supported residents throughout the campaign, told the Salford Star "The Burgess Farm decision is disappointing and wrong.
He added: "It is clear from the judgement that if the Council had maintained an up to date housing plan and had bothered to defend residents at the Inquiry that the appeal would have been dismissed."
Indeed, Salford Council's role in the whole Burgess Farm fiasco is questionable, to say the least. Some might say disgraceful. Others might go further…
In his report on the Public Inquiry, the Planning Inspector had a special section on "The Salford Council Position", parts of which we include here in…
THE STRANGE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SALFORD COUNCIL AND PEEL HOLDINGS…
• When the planning application was originally considered by Salford Council's Planning Panel in July 2011 Council officers recommended approval of the application. This, the Planning Inspector noted "appears to have been based solely on the evidence provided by the applicant [ie Peel Holdings] as no additional reports or surveys have been presented in relation to this application either by the Council or by any other independent body".
• At Salford Council's chaotic Planning Panel meeting in July, councillors eventually refused Peel planning permission, despite strange attempts by Lead Member Councillor Derek Antrobus - who supported Peel's plans at the meeting - to try and stop the process (see Salford Star report click here).
• Peel Holdings then appealed against the Council decision and the case went to a Public Inquiry (see Salford Star report click here). But Salford Council wouldn't defend its reasons for refusing planning permission at that Public Inquiry, leaving residents with scarce resources to fight Peel on their own.
• A letter to residents on 15th December last year outlined the reasons why the Council was chickening out of the Inquiry (see Salford Star report click here and click here)… "new information in relation to the City's housing supply and demand", "draft changes to national planning policy", and "legal advice".
• The letter was based on a report by Paul Walker, the Council's Strategic Director for Sustainable Regeneration – but the contents of the "confidential" report were kept secret, even from the Planning Inspector and the Public Inquiry… "nobody outside the Council knows what is included in that report" noted the Inspector .
• On September 23rd 2011, the Inspector noted, Salford Council made an "express invitation" to Peel to re-submit its Burgess Farm application "with a view to it being approved before the start of this Inquiry".
• The Planning Inspector himself stated that these were "highly unusual circumstances"
• Incredibly, in April this year, Councillor Derek Antrobus, head of Salford Planning, posted on the Salford Labour Party website that "the Tory minister is about to overturn the Labour Council's decision… This will be a betrayal of the people of Walkden who have campaigned to put off Peel's development plans. But we always feared that the new national planning policy's presumption in favour of 'sustainable' development would make it hard to resist Peel's proposal."
• Hard to resist? Salford Council - and its "highly unusual circumstances", secret reports, invitations to Peel to re-submit its plans, and officers' recommendations "based solely on the evidence provided by the applicant" - never even tried.
• In coming to his decision, Eric Pickles stated that he "notes that the Salford City Council took no real part in the Inquiry and that it was not possible for the Inspector or objectors to explore policy and related matters with the Council."
Now, having rolled over to allow Peel Holdings to build on green field land at Burgess Farm despite democratic opposition from its own councillors and residents, will Salford Council defend its precious Green Belt against Peel Holdings' onslaught? The signs are not good. In fact, they're awful…
Read: The Destruction of Salford's Green Belt – coming soon…
UPDATE: 2pm 18th July 2012 – SALFORD COUNCIL MEETING
At a meeting of the full Salford Council this morning Burgess Farm was discussed, with Assistant Mayor for Planning, Derek Antrobus, weeping crocodile tears over Burgess Farm, explaining how Eric Pickles had “betrayed” the people of Salford, arguing that the Inspector’s decision had been “overturned politically” and that the Tories had unleashed a “developers’ charter”… "What confidence is there that the Secretary of State will back local people over developers?” he asked, adding that the Council would “defend the city’s green field and green belt sites”.
It sounded good...until Conservative Councillor Lindley stood up and spoke of the “elephant in the room”…that Councillor Antrobus was actually in favour of allowing Peel Holdings to build houses on Burgess Farm.
Meanwhile, other Tory councillors revealed that they were “annoyed” with the Secretary of State, Councillor Karen Garrido promising to write to both Eric Pickles and David Cameron … “I think this is a bad, bad decision” she said “As a Conservative I thought we would be supported on this.”
She then called for Mayor Ian Stewart to instigate a Judicial Review into the decision. In reply, Stewart said that he had “severe concerns with the Secretary of State”, that he will find out “the facts of the matter” and will then “decide how to move this forward”. Don’t hold your breath…