Rainford Action Group

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Press Release – 18/09/2017

St Helens Council is failing to meet government guidelines that say councils must produce clear timescales for each stage of the Local Plan process.
St Helens Council has failed to provide the public with an updated timetable for its highly controversial development plan.

That goes against government recommendations that say councils have an obligation to inform the public when each stage of a Local Plan will be published, consulted on, and adopted.

Failure to provide a clear timetable makes it harder for the public to respond.

Government guidelines say: “Local planning authorities must publicise their intended timetable for producing the Local Plan. This information is contained within a Local Development Scheme, which local planning authorities should publish on their website and must keep up to date. Up-to-date and accessible reporting on the Local Development Scheme in an Authority’s Monitoring Report is an important way in which Local Planning Authorities can keep communities informed of plan making activity.”

St Helens Council has not done this and when asked why not by campaigners claimed it didn’t have to.

Consultation on the most recent version of the St Helens plan closed in January. Since then St Helens Council has failed to give any indication of when the next version will be published.

The council has not even responded to people who took part in the Local Plan consultation held nine months ago, which it must do before the plan can progress.

The delay means the council is dramatically behind its previously planned schedule. The next version of the Local Plan was supposed to be published in the summer. That deadline has gone but the public have not been told when it has been changed to.

Green belt campaigners say the council is “deliberately hiding” its Local Plan timetable and “getting further and further behind the council’s original schedule with each passing day”.

Campaigners say the delay has been caused by “unprecedented opposition” and that the council has been “simply overwhelmed” by the response from St Helens residents.

Rainford Action Group, who want to save six big green belt sites in the rural village that have been earmarked for development, say the council needs to be much more “open and transparent”.

The group has learnt that nearly a thousand people from Rainford took part in the consultation on the last version of the Local Plan.

Figures uncovered using Freedom of Information requests show at least 977 people with Rainford addresses took part in the council’s consultation earlier this year.

That is almost a fifth of the total number of responses received by the council.
There were 5,695 responses in total. Proportionally that is almost five times more responses than the consultation on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.
That Greater Manchester wide plan has been halted by Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham after concerns about the loss of green belt land.

Rainford Action Group says the response from Rainford is a “clear demonstration of the serious concerns residents have and those concerns must be taken seriously by the council”.

The group has agreed to meet with council officials who have invited them to discuss “the Local Plan process”. The group welcomed the meeting but stressed it will only be satisfied with “fundamental” changes to the plan.

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “Councils have been given clear guidance by the government that they must inform the public about the timings of their Local Plan process. St Helens Council has failed to do this.

“The council appears to be deliberately hiding its timetable. We are calling on them to adopt a much more open and transparent approach so St Helens residents know exactly when they can expect progress on the Local Plan.

“This is a major local issue and people have already been kept in the dark for far too long.

“The St Helens Local Plan is getting further and further behind the council’s original schedule with each passing day. The next version should have been published by now. The council should update the public on when we can expect progress rather than leave people in limbo.

“The delay is clearly because the last version of the plan attracted unprecedented opposition and the council has been simply overwhelmed by the response from St Helens residents.

“In Rainford, nearly a thousand people took part in the consultation. That is a clear demonstration of the serious concerns residents of the village have and those concerns must be taken seriously by the council.

“Rainford Action Group has agreed to meet with council officials to discuss the Local Plan process. We’re pleased the council is now willing to engage as previously they had refused to meet us.

“But our message will be clear; we will not be satisfied with the Local Plan unless there are fundamental changes to it.”

The last version of the St Helens Local Plan said at least 1,140 houses should be built on green belt land in Rainford. That would expand the village by a third.

Rainford Action Group say the village can’t cope with expansion on that scale.

Each earmarked site is grade one farmland and currently used to grow food.

The council says St Helens needs 17,000 new houses in the next 30 years to cope with predicted population growth. Eleven thousand of those extra houses would be built on green belt land.

Rainford Action Group strongly disputes the council’s population growth predictions, pointing out that St Helens Borough has had a declining population for 30 years and there is no evidence that trend will dramatically reverse.

In other council reports, it is clearly stated that the borough’s population is falling.

Rainford Action Group firmly believes population growth cannot be used as a legitimate reason to build on the borough’s green belt.

Press Release – 14/09/2017

Road to nowhere: Windle Island delays “for nothing” as revamp ignores impact of council’s planned development 
 
A multi-million pound revamp to one of the busiest traffic junctions in St Helens will “all be for nothing” if St Helens Council’s controversial development plans go ahead.

Rainford Action Group has learnt the £7m scheme to ease traffic congestion at the Windle Island Junction on the A580 East Lancashire Road was put together using figures that are already at least three years out of date.

And the scheme, which is part funded by the Liverpool City Region, doesn’t take into account the council’s plans to build thousands of new houses and several giant warehouses near to the junction.

Work at Windle Island is due to start this month and will cause significant disruption and delays along the Rainford by-pass and into Windle towards St Helens town centre. The work is expected to last 18 months, meaning drivers face long delays well into 2019.

Rainford Action Group say any improvements will be overwhelmed by the thousands of extra vehicles that would need to use the junction if the council’s housing and warehousing plans are approved.

The campaign group asked St Helens Council in a Freedom of Information Request if the new housing and warehousing developments had been factored into the Windle Island scheme.

The council replied that the scheme was based on 2014 figures and there had been no update since the controversial development plans were produced last year.

Rainford Action Group say that “short-sighted decision” means St Helens drivers could face months of delays for no benefit at all.

Since the council came up with the Windle Island scheme three years ago, it has announced plans to allow developers to build at least 1,140 houses on green belt land in Rainford. The overwhelming majority of vehicles leaving the village do so via Windle Island meaning there could be an extra 2,200 cars using the junction.

The council also wants developers to build 2,500 extra houses in Eccleston, close to Windle Island. That would increase the local population there by more than 50 percent and have a huge impact at Windle Island junction.

And St Helens Council wants developers to build hundreds of new houses in Billinge, Moss Bank and Haydock, close to the East Lancashire Road.

The council has already approved plans to build a giant warehouse on green belt land on the A580 in Haydock and another huge warehouse looks set to be built by controversial property firm Peel Holdings on green belt land next to Haydock racecourse. These developments would add hundreds of extra vehicles to the existing traffic already using Windle Island but haven’t been factored into the Windle Island scheme either.

Rainford Action Group says the council risks creating gridlock on the borough’s roads, which would deter business investment in St Helens and cause misery for thousands of St Helens residents.

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “We were astonished to learn St Helens Council hadn’t factored its planned housing and warehousing developments, and the already approved warehouse in Haydock, into their Windle Island traffic congestion scheme.

“That short-sighted decision effectively means the months of delays and disruption St Helens drivers face will all be for nothing. If these development plans go ahead, Windle Island will inevitably need another upgrade and that will mean even more delays for drivers in the future.
“The scheme is already out of date even though work hasn’t begun. Drivers face months of delays for no gain and taxpayers’ money will be squandered on a scheme that will never be fit for purpose.”
The St Helens Local Plan proposed releasing land from the green belt in Rainford to allow developers to build at least 1,140 new houses. That would expand the village by a third.
Rainford Action Group says the impact on traffic in the village is one of the main reasons the plan has faced such opposition.

James Wright said: “Rainford is a rural village. Building large housing developments in communities where there is poor transport links makes no sense, especially as the developments would have such a negative impact on traffic congestion, road safety and air pollution.

“St Helens Council should focus on building new housing on brownfield land close to sustainable transport connections. That would bring genuine benefits to the whole borough.

“The planned developments around Windle Island risk blocking one of the borough’s major junctions and entry points, putting off business investment, causing terrible air pollution and creating misery for St Helens motorists and residents.
“St Helens needs a strategy for growth not a plan for gridlock, which is what the council’s current proposals risk creating.”

The council’s business case for the work at Windle Island junction is outlined in a report called the Improvements to Windle Island Scheme – Economic Impact Assessment. It was produced three years ago by consultants Mott MacDonald.

The report clearly states the population of St Helens has fallen. That directly contradicts claims in the St Helens Local Plan that the population of the borough is growing and therefore green belt land is needed for housing development.
Rainford Action Group has also learnt that St Helens Council has paid Mott MacDonald nearly half a million pounds in just six years.

A Freedom of Information Request showed the firm has been paid £478,667 by St Helens Council since 2012. That includes a huge payment of £212,120 in 2014, the year the Windle Island report was written.

James Wright said: “The expensive work carried out for St Helens Council by these consultants shows in black and white that the borough’s population has fallen and seen a long-term decline.

“This proves the population growth the council uses to justify green belt development doesn’t exist. There is simply no proof, and no legitimate reason to believe, that St Helens’ population will grow in the way the council claims in its Local Plan and therefore green belt land should be protected.
“The council cannot with any credibility continue to claim that population growth justifies the destruction of so much green belt land across St Helens.
“And nor can they credibly claim that the work at Windle Island will bring long-term benefits because they have failed to factor into the scheme the huge increase in traffic their development plans would create.”

Press Release – 12/08/2017

A multimillion pound revamp of one of the busiest traffic junctions in St Helens will be a “total waste of time and money” if St Helens Council’s controversial development plans go ahead.

Rainford Action Group has learnt the £7m scheme to ease traffic congestion at the Windle Island Junction with the A580 East Lancashire Road was put together using figures that are already at least three years out of date and don’t take into account the council’s plans to build thousands of new houses and several giant warehouses near to the junction.

Work at Windle Island is due to start in September after the Liverpool City Region agreed to pay half of the total cost. Construction is expected to last 18 months meaning drivers in St Helens face significant delays until well into 2019.

Rainford Action Group say it will all be for nothing because any improvements will be overwhelmed by the thousands of extra vehicles that would need to use the junction if the housing and warehousing plans are approved.

The campaign group asked St Helens Council in a Freedom of Information Request what provision for the new housing and warehousing developments they had made in the Windle Island scheme.

The council replied that the scheme was based on 2014 figures and there had been no update since the controversial development plans were produced last year.

Rainford Action Group say that means St Helens drivers face months of delays for no benefit.

Since the council came up with the Windle Island scheme three years ago, it has announced plans to allow developers to build at least 1,140 houses on green belt land in Rainford.

The overwhelming majority of vehicles leaving the village do so via Windle Island meaning there could be an extra 2,200 cars using the junction.

The council also wants developers to build 1,300 houses in Eccleston, close to Windle Island. It also wants developers to build more housing in Billinge, Moss Bank and Haydock, close to the East Lancashire Road.

Plus the council has approved plans to build a giant warehouse on green belt land in Haydock and is considering an application to approve a second huge warehouse next to Haydock Race Course.

All these developments would add thousands of vehicles to the existing traffic already using Windle Island.

The council claims the work at Windle Island would create additional traffic capacity. But their plans are based on a report called the Improvements to Windle Island Scheme – Economic Impact Assessment and since that was written in 2014 the St Helens Local Plan has been published. The proposals in the Local Plan have major implications for Windle Island but St Helens Council has ignored that and failed to update its traffic congestion scheme.

Rainford Action Group say the council risks creating gridlock on the borough’s roads, which would deter business investment in St Helens and cause misery for thousands of St Helens residents.

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “We were astonished to learn St Helens Council hadn’t factored these housing and warehousing plans into their Windle Island traffic congestion scheme. St Helens drivers face months of disruption for nothing. The scheme is a total waste of time and money.

“If these developments go ahead, no amount of investment will improve congestion at Windle Island. It will be gridlock at one of the borough’s major junctions and entry points.

“The traffic congestion scheme is out of date before work has even started so all those drivers facing months of delays will be inconvenienced for nothing and taxpayers’ money will be squandered on a scheme that isn’t fit for purpose.”

St Helens Council wants to release land from the green belt in Rainford to allow developers to build at least 1,140 new houses. That would expand the village by a third.

Rainford Action Group says the impact on traffic in the village is one of the main reasons why local people oppose the plan.

James Wright said: “Rainford is a rural village. Building large housing developments in communities where there is poor transport links makes no sense.

“St Helens Council should focus on building new housing on brownfield land close to sustainable transport connections. That would bring genuine benefits to the whole borough.”