COUNCILLORS have backed a mega-development plan controlling the scope and flavour of Wigan’s future housing and industrial development.
The wide-ranging final version of the Core Strategy, as laid out by Government Inspector Kevin Ward, was given the green light by the Cabinet late last week.
It is now likely to clear the ultimate hurdle of full council - pending a six-week window for a potentially-expensive legal appeal about procedure - when it comes before all members later this month.
The vote will bring to an end four years of work and five separate rounds of consultations, heated public meetings and extensive cross examination at a two-part public inquiry.
It sets in stone Wigan’s development future up to and including 2026.
And it follows legal advice from expert counsel Jonathan Easton that a refusal by councillors would have left the borough without a legal planning framework. That in turn could have left it open to continual and costly challenge and litigation over any applications that were subsequently refused.
The most controversial aspect of the Inspector’s ruling - a further 1,000 homes removed from Golborne and Lowton’s new homes allocation and moved to Standish - ran completely contrary to the council’s advice.
It has gone on to stoke up fierce - and continuing - resistance from residents’ action group Save Standish and the village’s independent councillors. However the assistant director of planning and transport Mike Worden pointed out that any eventual refusal by the authority to adopt a Core Strategy-style legal development framework could well have meant TWICE as many homes’ being developed in the village.
That is because there is already currently “available” housing zone land for more than 2,500 plots.
Failure to adopt the strategy would have left the local authority legally defenceless to attempt to control or oppose developers’ attempting to bring each one forward for housing immediately.
Mr Worden also points out that the terms of the Core Strategy will now tie housing developers into submitting applications in which at least 25 per cent of homes are affordable.
Standish, even if the 1,000-home allocation is fully taken up by developers, will then only have provided just seven per cent of the borough’s new housing requirement as decreed by Government.
The planning department is now working on an infrastructure plan for both Standish and Golborne/Lowton to be considered concurrently with the Core Strategy’s stipulations.
This will analyse the effect the housing developments will bring to bare on existing roads, public transport, education, medical facilities and public open space.
And it will help the council to get the most sympathetic developments with the greatest planning game, within the strictures of the Core Strategy’s housing limits.
This will help the council to make the most of the new Community Infrastructure Levy - cash that developers must stump up to help counter the effects of new home populations upon existing facilities - now set to replace the former Section 106 agreement. He pointed out that although Mr Ward’s modifications were unchanged from the version already consulted on, the final report gave more information on concerns already raised.
Mr Worden agreed that the council was disappointed that the Inspector didn’t accept that there was “quantitative or qualitative need” for controversial warehouse and offices development on land including some green belt at M6 Junction 25, between Winstanley and Bryn.
Or that the potential site, which triggered a large protest from residents in Winstanley and Hawkley Hall led by Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue, had failed to meet the criteria for a development of exceptional quality.
Indeed Mr Ward found that the types of uses envisaged were “typical of those that could be accommodated on existing or proposed employment sites elsewhere.”
But Mr Worden revealed that the council now fears that rather than going to existing industrial development sites around the borough, this investment is likely now to go to sites with better established motorway communications elsewhere in the North West, such as Warrington’s Gemini high-tech park.
He said: “The alternative, at this late stage, if the council had decided to reject the Core Strategy, would potentially have been an absolute development free-for-all.
“This would not, we are sure, be what the vast majority of residents or businesspeople would have wanted for the borough.
“Adopting the Core Strategy will leave the council in a better position than a lot of other local authorities in that we will have a development frame work to take us forward, unlike councils such as Salford, Rochdale and Bury, which have found themselves unable to agree a suitable plan.
“There will always be some people with different interests and views not going to be happy with all aspects of the Core Strategy.
“But it will leave the borough a more attractive proposition to live and work in because all interested parties will know what is likely to happen in their locality.”