Revealed: What the Highways Agency and a neighbouring council make of the controversial St Helens Local Plan
It’s attracted even more public opposition than the Greater Manchester wide development plan that’s currently under review.
And now it can be revealed that it isn’t just members of the public who have raised concerns about the St Helens Local Plan.
Using Freedom of Information requests, Rainford Action Group has seen documents that prove other public authorities have raised questions about St Helens Council’s hugely controversial development blueprint.
The campaign group has seen the official response of the Highways Agency to the St Helens Local Plan. It makes clear St Helens Council’s proposals would have “significant implications” for the road network and highlights the council has picked sites for development that “lack existing sustainable and active transport linkages”.
It is repeatedly stated throughout the response that the agency must be consulted at an “early stage” when the next version of the plan is being produced.
Rainford Action Group has learnt that this has not happened, eight months after the Highways Agency responded. There have been no follow up meetings between the Highways Agency and St Helens Council about the Local Plan, despite the Highways Agency being a statutory body the council must consult.
The response to the last version of the St Helens Local Plan by this impartial government agency, which is tasked with managing the strategic road network, is in line with issues raised by campaign groups such as Rainford Action Group.
The Highways Agency says, because the council wants to develop green belt sites, these sites are “less likely to benefit from existing sustainable infrastructure”.
This point has been repeatedly raised by Rainford Action Group, who oppose the council’s plan to release six sites in Rainford from the green belt to build at least 1,140 houses, which would expand the village by a third.
Rainford has limited public transport. The village is poorly served by buses and the train station, which is a more than a mile from the village centre, only has an hourly service which stops at half six in the evening.
Rainford Action Group has also seen an email from a senior officer at neighbouring Wigan Council to the chief executive of St Helens Council Mike Palin, which outlines that authority’s view of the St Helens Local Plan.
The email states that St Helens Council’s plan would impact “on the motorway network, notably M6 junctions 22 to 26, and the A580 East Lancashire Road, where significant infrastructure investment will be needed”.
The email goes on to say: “We need to understand the implications of this in terms of feasibility, deliverability, cost and funding opportunities.”
And the senior Wigan Council officer, who details his authority’s more advanced development plans, questions if there is enough demand to justify such development in both boroughs.
The officer states in the email: “We also need to ensure that there is sufficient projected demand during the plan periods to warrant this level of allocation and Green Belt release.”
This is again in line with points raised by campaign groups who have questioned the economic justification for developing so much protected land in St Helens when similar sites are being developed in neighbouring boroughs.
James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “Since the St Helens Local Plan was published, St Helens Council has sought to ignore and dismiss the legitimate concerns of residents. Well they can’t so easily brush under the carpet the concerns of the Highways Agency and Wigan Council.
“What we have uncovered shows the extent of the concern this Local Plan has generated and that it goes way beyond St Helens.
“The Highways Agency has rightly identified the problems this plan would create on our road network.
“Wigan Council is also concerned about the traffic impact and that green belt land could be lost unnecessarily because the demand for so much development doesn’t exist.
“So the issues groups like ours have been raising have also been raised by the very public authorities St Helens Council needs to consult with.
“The St Helens Local Plan attracted a bigger response proportionally than the Greater Manchester development plan.
“In Greater Manchester, that plan is being radically rewritten. Anything less than the same in St Helens will be totally unacceptable.”
The Highways Agency response can be read here: