Rainford Action Group

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Press Release – 07/12/2017

Rainford needs more green space not less, say campaigners 

 

  • Village has least green space in whole of St Helens

 

  • Development of Rainford’s Grade One farmland would have “national significance”

 

Rainford needs more green space not less say campaigners who have learnt the village has the least amount of green space in the whole of St Helens Borough.

Rainford Action Group has seen a report produced by St Helens Council that states the provision of green space in Rainford is below every other part of the town.

The village has no maintained parks and the amount of green space in Rainford falls short of the recognised standard.   

Yet the council wants to tear up the green belt boundary in Rainford and allow building on six sites that are currently protected – further reducing the amount of green land.

Rainford Action Group has also seen figures that suggest building on the land in Rainford would have “national significance”.

Each site in the village that the council included in its development blueprint, the St Helens Local Plan, is Grade One farmland, the highest quality land possible.

Rainford Action Group has seen figures from Natural England showing that just 2.7% of land in England is classed as Grade One farmland.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, between 1998 and 2008 only 900 houses were built on Grade One land across the whole of England.

St Helens Council proposed building more than 1,140 houses on Grade One farmland in its Local Plan in Rainford alone.

 

Campaigners say the loss of so much fertile land would have an impact nationally on food production, particularly at a time when Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will mean domestic food production will be even more important. The environment minister Michael Gove has recently raised his concerns about soil quality.

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “Rainford is a beautiful part of the world but the amount of green space the public can actually use in the village is very low compared to other areas. For example there are no parks in Rainford unlike other parts of St Helens.

“This is why the countryside means so much to the people of Rainford. The green belt is the only green space we get to enjoy and St Helens Council is threatening to take it away.

“Not only will this have a massive impact locally but we think the loss of so much Grade One farmland will be nationally significant.

“St Helens Council proposed building more houses on Grade One farmland in Rainford than were built on such land in the whole of the country over ten years. That’s reckless and irresponsible.

“This Christmas, people across the UK will be eating vegetables grown in Rainford’s fields. Our farmers supply some of the biggest supermarket chains in the country. If these fields are built on, the country will lose a significant amount of its most fertile land and supermarkets will lose important suppliers. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing now we face the prospect of food insecurity caused by Brexit.”

In a 2016 report, St Helens Council found that:

  • Rainford has no parks but does have other land for people to use such as the protected fields the council now wants developers to build on. 
  • Rainford only has 1.92 hectare per 1,000 population of natural and semi-natural green space – less than the recommended standard of 2 hectare per 1,000.
Given the shortage of green space in the village Rainford Action Group is calling on St Helens Council to reconsider its plans. 
 
James Wright said: “Rainford needs more green space not less. St Helens Council must recognise their own findings that clearly show Rainford people get a poor deal when it comes to green space. 
 
“That is currently offset by the protected land they can enjoy but if this land is destroyed the lack of available green space in Rainford will become a serious problem.  
 
“The council has said it won’t publish the next version of its Local Plan until next summer. For many reasons, the proposals for Rainford need to be radically rewritten.”

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