THE BATTLE FOR SALFORD'S FUTURE
…eeeeeewwww. Even back in February this year, Peel Holdings was busy trying to control the agenda for this month's Battle for Salford's Future, as dummies were flying out of its pram in all directions.
Salford Council had written an Opening Statement for this month's Government Inspector examination of the very boring sounding Core Strategy. And Peel Holdings were having none of it. The statement was returned with the Word Document equivalent of red ink scrawled all over it – crossings out, bits added in…whole new sections included, in ironic magenta ink.
Peel wanted to control the agenda for the Government Inspector. That's how important the Core Strategy is for the company which aspires to control, not just Salford but half the North West, to financially exploit every inch of the vast expanses of land it owns, including much of the Green Belt.
The boringly titled Core Strategy is probably Salford's most important planning document and isn't just about Peel Holdings (not that you'd know it). The Core Strategy sets out a policy and plan until 2028 of everything that can happen in the city – from how many houses are allowed to be built, to how much retail and industrial space can be used and, crucially, how much space can be protected.
Peel Holdings wants Salford City Council to release 100 hectares of Green Belt land for the expansion of its Port Salford project, even though the first phase of the Port hasn't yet been built. And for almost 1,500 houses in East Irlam, next to Irlam FC's ground.
It also wants Green Belt land released at Hazelhurst for 450 houses, as well as previously protected land in Worsley for a further 1,000 `aspirational' houses.
After initially proposing to release 40 hectares of Green Belt land near Irlam, Salford Council famously did a u-turn a couple of years ago, just before the local elections, following big protests by local residents, also attended by former Salford MP, Ian Stewart, who is now Mayor of Salford (see here and see here).
The new proposals in the Core Strategy are to protect the Green Belt, apart from "exceptional circumstances". And it's over this that the Battle For Salford's Future is to be fought.
Peel's `people', Turley Associates, have been producing a tsunami of documents over the last six months attempting to prove that the release of Salford's Green Belt is crucial for the success of Port Salford - for which Salford Council has chipped in a £4million grant and a £11million loan, while the Regional Growth Fund has added another £15million of public money (more of this in Part 2).
Peel's justification for the Green Belt destruction is economic growth and 7,700 jobs (er, see MediaCityUK). The official Peel reasoning on Port Salford states…
"The proposed employment land provision is insufficient to meet economic development needs and growth opportunities… The PCS [Core Strategy] policy of a reduction in industrial and warehousing floorspace is unacceptable and harmful to the economic prosperity of the City… The lack of policy provision for an expanded Port Salford as a logistics hub fails to recognise a nationally significant need is a substantial and harmful loss of opportunity and associated benefits."
For once, Salford Council is standing its ground, basically arguing that Peel is talking through its arse…
That Peel's demand for 100 hectares of Green Belt release "is well in excess of its own identified land shortfall of 42.5 hectares for the entire port corridor up to 2030"; that Peel's claims to be saving c400,000 HGV movements a year with the expansion are spurious - "there is no explanation of how that figure has been calculated"; that if the logistics side of the Port does need to expand it can go somewhere else other than the Green Belt, like Trafford Park; and that "it is unclear whether an expanded Port Salford would result in additional jobs for the region or would simply affect where those jobs are located".
There is also the "very significant potential traffic impacts of an expanded Port Salford". Just on Phase 1 of Port Salford there will be an estimated 3,780 HGV trips per day, more than one per minute during peak times. A tripling of the amount of warehousing that Peel wants to plonk on the Green Belt would, understates the Council, "result in an extremely high frequency of HGV movements onto the A57 and surrounding highways".
Then there's the whole principle of what the Green Belt actually is…
The Peel proposals would remove all of the Green Belt south of the M62 between Irlam and Eccles, which the Council states, "would result in the neighbouring towns of Irlam and Eccles merging into one another, which the Green Belt is intended to prevent".
The Council also disputes Peel's assertion that the agricultural land that would be lost is rated as 3B… "The City Council has not seen this evidence. The latest detailed information received from Defra suggests that the site… includes around 110 hectares of Grade 1 agricultural land and around 25 hectares of Grade 2. The proposal would therefore involve the significant loss of high grade agricultural land."
The area also includes habitats for red and amber threatened species of birds and potential for great crested newts and reptiles, plus bat habitats.
While the Council is putting forward what looks like a concrete case, don't underestimate Peel Holdings, or over estimate Salford Council's appetite for a fight.
When Peel challenged Salford Council through the Government Inspector over Burgess Farm, Salford Council didn't contest it (see here), despite the Inspector finding against Peel (see here). And when Secretary of State Eric Pickles over-ruled the Inspector and gave the go-ahead to Peel, Salford Council again didn't challenge the decision, unlike other councils around the country in a similar situation.
Meanwhile, Peel recently won a case against the Department of the Environment over Salford's flood plain policy (see here). Indeed, all over the country there are cases where Peel's legal bods have won planning battles over elected authorities. Even former Home Secretary Jack Straw has been foaming over a Peel retail park recently. Will this case be any different?
Peel is using new ConDem Government freedom-to-concrete-over-the-Green Belt policy, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), in favour of `sustainable development' to justify its case…
"The sustainability balance between the three dimensions of economic, social and environmental has not been correctly struck particularly post publication of NPPF" states the latest Peel communiqué to the Inspector
"Peel identify in detail in its representations where a different, pro-growth balance should be struck" it adds "in summary around housing in Salford West and employment land provision particularly embracing the expansion of Port Salford. All would represent sustainable broad locations for the CS."
As well as Tory planning policy, Peel are also enlisting AGMA (Associated Greater Manchester Authorities) policy to over-ride the Council, and, at the end of the day, Salford Council's own support in getting them public loans and grants of £30million…
"Port Salford Phase 1 therefore includes a major financial commitment from both the public sector and the private sector, to ensure the delivery of the necessary port, rail and road infrastructure" states Peel "In considering these commitments, it is crucial to consider that both the public and the private sector require such major investments to deliver maximum return on capital expenditure."
In other words, `if you want your money back, play the game'…
Everyone knows what Peel Holdings will do to get its own way – as witnessed by the attempted `buying of the local election' in Irlam and Cadishead a few years ago, when the multi-billion pound company tried to unseat sitting Labour Councillor Roger Jones over congestion charges (see`Come Dance With The Devil' here). Roger Jones has recently won his seat back in Irlam, right in the ward where the Green Belt is threatened. But can the Council keep control over its own spaces?
Following Peel Holdings magenta ink attack on the Inspector's agenda, the company virtually got its own way with much of its proposed changes implemented. Indeed, Peel now has its own day just to discuss the Port Salford expansion, on Wednesday 19th September.
In the meantime, the inspector's examination of the Core Strategy begins tomorrow, Tuesday 4th September at 10am, Crompton House, Swinton. The public is welcome to attend and see Peel Holdings legally grinding methods first hand.
The hearings go on all month, off and on – for the full schedule see here.
See also all the reams of Peel Holdings documents for its attack on the Core Strategy – click here for the library.
* Last week, Peel Ports issued its so-called `Corporate Social Responsibility Report for 2012/13' talking about "our responsibilities to the environment and the communities in which we operate". Nowhere in the report is any mention made of the Green Belt...
Part Two - Public Money and Jobs click here