WIGAN’S economic future has suffered a hammer blow after a Government planning inspector blocked plans for a major business site.
Council officers expressed disappointment after inspector Kevin Ward ruled that proposals to build a commercial estate on green belt land near junction 25 of the M6 should be removed from the Core Strategy.
The local authority had hoped the site, at Bryn, would provide hundreds of new jobs and help Wigan compete with neighbouring towns and cities which have invested heavily in commercial premises close to the motorway.
However, the Inspector’s decision was greeted with relief by many residents and councillors, who had said the plans would lead to traffic chaos on roads already struggling to cope with traffic going to and from the motorway.
Councillors at a scrutiny committee meeting considering the council officers’ response to the Inspector’s findings were asked to support a decision to request an explanation of why the junction 25 development has been rejected, given its potential economic benefits.
Wigan Council director of planning, Mike Worden, told the committee: “This is a significant blow to providing opportunities in Wigan
“The council had put forward a potential site for high-quality employment development and we need the reasons why the inspector has not supported it.
“A lack of connectivity to the road network and suitable sites in suitable places is the crux of this council’s problems with economic development, and this decision is a major setback for the borough’s long-term job prospects.”
Labour Coun John O’Brien, chairing the scrutiny committee, also said the loss of economic development near the motorway could leave Wigan struggling to compete with areas such as Preston, Chorley and Warrington along the M6 route.
Coun O’Brien said: “When I drove out of Wigan along the M6 I was quite gob-smacked at how other boroughs have been building office blocks and developments along the motorway. Those areas are now thriving.
“Wigan has the longest stretch of motorway of any borough in the area and there are no active commercial entities along it.”
However, the disappointment at the Inspector’s quashing of the junction 25 scheme was not shared by councillors and residents in areas, particularly Winstanley, Hawkley Hall and Marus Bridge, which had strongly objected to the business park on traffic and health grounds.
Labour councillor Paul Kenny for Winstanley ward said: “I assure officers there was dancing in the streets and much frivolity when the Inspector’s recommendation was published.
“I have strongly resisted any attempt to reclassify green belt land at this location, and there is no disappointment in the communities around junction 25 at this decision.”
The council now has until June 14 to make any comments to the Inspector, whose final report is expected to be submitted in July.