We hear much about the promotion of the Parkside freight park which has been an aspiration or St Helens Council for many years. This has divided opinions locally among the public from those who favour the scheme for job creation and those who are concerned over the scale and environmental impact on green belt.
Simply absorbing the environmental impact of such a large scheme in a residential area would be challenge enough. But what if we told you that potentially there might be not one but now two vast freight parks either side of Newton?
Hidden in recent council reports in verbiage impenetrable by ordinary members of the public are some disturbing proposals. If these proposed council plans come to pass the town of Newton-le-willows could be surrounded by not one but two freight parks. What if also we told you these are both on green belt and the council are hinting to remove green belt status of the land later this year? Seemingly to suit the perceived needs of two developers riding over the founding principles of natonal green belt legislation. The latest St Helens council plan outcome is to remove around 214 hectares of St Helens borough green belt for commercial development but almost entirely in one location in the borough.
It sounds barely believable but it may come to pass, overwhelming the local traffic on the local M6, A580, M62 and local roads in Newton and surrounding towns.
This concerns, up till now, a largely unpromoted but potential new freight park just a couple of miles from Parkside at the opposite end of Newton and at the next motorway junction.
It’s even more interesting in that St Helens council originally opposed the new scheme at Ashton Road by junction 23 but by a series of events are now attempting to force potentially another scheme alongside the already locally controversial Parkside scheme.
Here we examine how this situation came about and what might be the implications were this ever to come to pass.
We start a few years ago when Marie Rimmer when leader of St Helens Council made a statement the then council leader was delighted at the news St Helens had successfully won a bid to upgrade junction 23 of the M6 known locally as Haydock Island.
The £4 million pound scheme was later completed in 2015 however the statement from Marie Rimmer at the time was very perplexing she did not state generically such as “will ease congestion and boost the economy” she spoke very specifically that the development has the potential to create 1000 jobs and 2000 homes. As we write 2000 homes are being built in Newton-le-Willows and Haydock and nearby areas to junction 23. But why was a very specific number of 1000 jobs stated by the council leader, that was very odd at the time.
In July 2012 at the concluding hearings into St Helens Core Strategy Peel Land and property met with St Helens Council. On one side of the table sat a barrister and a number of Peel executives at the other side of the table sat the St Helens Planning Team and a barrister appointed by St Helens Council. The council were opposing the scheme as the site was on green belt land and lack of need given nearby the other side of Newton-le-Willows was the Parkside Freight Scheme which was included as a key aspirational objective in the councils proposed 2012 core strategy. The council asserted the Ashton Road site was not needed therefore. The government inspector told Peel that they were too late in the process to propose allocations of land particularly green belt land.
Peel responded they did not wish to allocate land but to dispute a legal wording in the 2012 core strategy particularly in relation to the governments planning laws which were newly launched in 2012. In general terms Peel argued there was a need for more flexibility in the planning framework and this was their barristers interpretation on the new planning legislation. Peel won the legal debate and the inspector ruled St Helens Core Strategy wording be changed in the appropriate section.
A couple of years later notices appeared on the green belt land by Peel Holdings North Ltd informing the public the land was no longer to be considered common land or village green under the terms of the 2006 commons act. It was still Green Belt but the purpose of the motivation for the public notices was unclear at that time but linked with the previous council leaders comments on Junction 23 upgrade and the core strategy hearings was an interesting development.
Fast forward now to 2016 and St Helens Council suddenly decided to replace their expensively assembled 2012 15 year plan with another 15 year plan this time to 2033.
Ostensibly this was because the council believed the commercial market had changed in the last three years. It worth examining here why the council believe the commercial market has changed so fundamentally in the three years since assembling their last plan to such a scale they need to develop an entirely new plan. Something not inexpensive in these days of shortfalls in local government funding.
The answer can be found in a new report commissioned by the council the St Helens allocations local plan evidence base paper 2015. This takes data from just a five year sample of occupier take up of large logistics sites in the North West as in the chart below.
The assertion of increased demand is based on a single spike in 2013, fall in 2014, another projected large spike for 2015 the assumption being this 2015 rate of growth spike will be extrapolated at the 2015 spike levels for the next two decades. An extraordinary assumption both statistical sampling and basic logic, particularly with the predicted severe global economic headwinds forecast and the major slowdown in china. This projection was augmented by generic information about the growth in Manchester and Liverpool together with the impact of online shopping. Matters already well documented into the market assumptions for St Helens 2012 plan and surely not new information. Also we are told the market is now rejecting brown land preferring green belt again this is nothing new developers have always preferred green belt land for development simply because it’s cheaper and easier to develop upon. It’s hard not to conclude the council are searching hard to find a reason to produce a new local plan of which the priimary purpose is to justify the removal of two areas of green belt under planning legislation to service the needs of two developers, Peel and Langtree.
Regular OLV readers will recall Langtree were financed to buy the Parkside Site by £1.5m cash injection into the joint venture partnership and £4.5m loan by public funds from St Helens council.
We now move to another of the councils documents a study commissioned by St Helens Council performed by the BE group a consultancy in October 2015. Page 71 refers to a potential new site at Haydock by Peel Holdings North on green belt land relating back to the discussions in the 2012 core strategy. The site was opposed by St Helens council in 2012 as the land was not needed however peel are now claiming the market has changed and the existing (2012) core strategy is flawed because of variation. Remember the hotly debated legal point debated in July 2012 we discussed earlier in this article ?
Further developments in February 2016 the chest (local government procurement portal) revealed St Helens council have commissioned two further studies and are inviting applications from consultants for the Parkside development in terms of commercial use and a further study traffic flow / options at junction 23 Haydock.
It is believed the land is the land between Ashton Road and Vista Road a huge area of land particularly as it reaches the A580. This is in Haydock / Newton-le-Willows.
Potentially therefore Newton-le-willows and the surrounding towns will have to absorb two new large scale freight schemes directly in residential areas. The area will be expected to cope with this in addition to the existing traffic a situation that could overwhelm the area in terms of traffic congestion and air pollution to say nothing of the immense loss of green belt almost the entire boroughs 15 year allocation. This is particularly worrying for local residents as orginally the council opposed the scheme presumably because of the HGV traffic impact allied with the HGV traffic impact of Parkside.
It may well be the area will have to cope with both if the proposed council plans in the documents below ever come to pass.
The recent St Helens Council tender for consultancy refers to expansion of Haydock Industrial Estate as above we believe this may be referring to the area of land south of the A580 which would expand Haydock Industrial estate both sides of the A580 and partially into Newton-le-Willows taking up the green belt land. The consultancy tender is for £40,000 which will be funded out of council funds. You might wonder why the council are paying for this and not the developer Peel Holdings one of the biggest developers in the United Kingdom. The reason is that the council will use the eventual report to use in their core strategy as justification to remove the land from green belt. More hard evidence like Parkside this is to be the second Newton freight terminal if the council get their plans approved by government inspector.
Parkside is very much the freight scheme getting huge publicity as the politicians and the developer try to promote the site.
Certainly with the backing of Peel Holdings a very large owner of real estate in the north west including the Atlantic Gateway, Liverpool Superport and the trafford centre this is certainly within Peels capability to deliver this site and quickly subject to planning. It will create jobs like Parkside and like Parkside it is on green belt and like Parkside it will have a negative environmental impact. Both schemes are similar.
One however receives maximum political publicity, one receives none.