Rainford Action Group

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Press Release – 15/11/2017

Campaign group calls on council to clarify comments made by senior councillor

Rainford Action Group, which is campaigning to save green belt land in the Merseyside village of Rainford, has called on St Helens Council to clarify comments made by a senior councillor.

St Helens Council wants to redraw the green belt boundary across the borough, allowing vast swathes of protected land to be developed. In Rainford, the council proposed building on six large green belt sites in the village. Each site is grade one farmland, the highest agricultural quality possible.

The proposals were contained in the St Helens Local Plan. A new version of the plan was due to be published earlier this year but has been delayed until summer 2018.

The delay follows a public consultation on the plan which attracted more than 6000 responses from local residents.

In an interview with local radio station Wish FM broadcast on Tuesday November 14, Councillor John Fulham, who is in charge of development at the council, spoke about green belt development.

Councillor Fulham said: “Some of that green belt like at Florida Farm used to be pit head. Some of it used to be coal mines. It’s not as if we are talking about the rolling hills of Shropshire here. But then there are other parts of St Helens that are also listed as green belt that are absolutely outstanding and deserve protection.”

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “We need Councillor Fulham to clarify his comments immediately. St Helens Council is supposed to be reviewing its Local Plan yet the councilor gave the clear impression that it is a forgone conclusion.

“The 6000 people who took part in the consultation earlier this year need to know the council is going to listen to the concerns they have raised. At the moment, it looks very much like the council intends to continue with its development plan unchanged despite the unprecedented outpouring of public opposition it attracted.

“We’d also like to ask Councillor Fulham why he thinks land in Shropshire is worth preserving but land in St Helens is not. He obviously doesn’t know Rainford very well because if he did he would realise the land his council wants to build on in the village is of the highest agricultural quality possible, has been farmed for generations and is outstandingly beautiful.

“The council has never before said a judgement would be taken on which green belt land would been handed over to developers based on past use of the land or for aesthetic reasons. If this kind of judgement is going to be made, who is going to be making it and on what grounds?

“We want St Helens Council to clarify these comments immediately. How can the people of St Helens have faith in this process if senior councillors make such statements so far out from the publication of the next version of the Local Plan?”

 

Press Release – 19/10/2017

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.”
Ends 
 
The Highways Agency response can be read here: 
 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/st-helens-draft-local-plan-foi

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.