Knowls Lane planning development statement from Debbie Abrahams MP
On Monday evening (1 July 2019), proposals for a housing development at Knowls Lane were discussed and voted on by a cross party planning committee at Oldham Civic Centre. The committee discussed plans for 265 homes and a link road between Knowls Lane and Ashbrook Road. The committee decided to vote in favour of the development by a majority.
A number of constituents have contacted me about the decision made by the planning committee. Firstly, although I have no decision making powers in the local planning system and am not a formal consultee in any planning matters, I was most disappointed that this planning application was re-submitted by Russel Homes.
On the process, the decision made by councillors on the planning committee is of a quasi-judicial nature and not a party political one. Officers had recommended approval after they ruled the initial reasons for refusal over concerns about the loss of the open land no longer outweighed the council’s low housing supply.
Half of the 15-hectare site was already allocated for housing, but the remainder was deemed ‘other protected open land’ (OPOL). Officers said the harm to the landscape was outweighed by the scheme’s ‘significant benefits’. The developer has agreed the nearby St Agnes Primary School will be given land to expand, and the scheme would provide 60 affordable homes. However, I still have concerns about the application and do not support it as it stands.
I have seen some video clips of the committee hearing, however I was in Parliament at the time so was not present at the meeting. However, I have spoken with the Leader of the Council and I have asked for a briefing on this.
I understand that many local residents see this development as controversial given that 48% of earmarked land is OPOL. In addition, residents have raised concerns about the loss of local wild life and the impact of additional traffic on the local environment and health. I share these concerns.
I am frustrated that national Government policy is demanding Oldham build large numbers of housing through an arbitrary housing delivery test, which fails to reflect projected housing need. Based on the most recent test, Oldham only met 64% of its required housing and the Government has threatened to put housing development directly into the hands of the developers should this continue, removing any democratically accountability. At the planning meeting, I understand the officers made it clear that this housing test undermined the OPOL policy and would not make the loss of OPOL land a valid reason for refusal for a second time. The Government needs to reinstate the money it cut to remediate brownfield sites. It costs a large amount of money to make brownfield sites suitable to be built on and this fund helped make building on brownfield easier to develop.
It is entirely regrettable that the Government’s national planning policy means brownfield sites don’t have to be developed first and they have withdrawn funding to decontaminate brownfield sites making them even harder to develop. But, as part of Oldham’s updated Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (April 2018) the council has carried out work to find more available brownfield sites which was one of my key asks from the previous plan. However, in addition to this unfortunately, the unrealistic target set by national government for the number of homes that we need to build locally makes it more difficult to build only on available brownfield land.
I agree with the concerns that residents have raised – it is important that we protect open space as it provides health benefits and supports our eco system, which as most people appreciate is under a real and significant threat. To protect our green spaces, the Government needs to reinstate the funding to remediate Brownfield sites.