The announcement of a scheme to build massive logistics warehouses in Wigan has generated a huge amount of comment and interest.
Developer db symmetry has revealed it is about to put in a planning application for the scheme near junction 25 of the M6.
The firm says the scheme, which would be built on a former colliery site, would cover some 1.44 million sq ft of employment space and would represent an investment of £73m into the borough.
However, the news has provoked a furious response from critics who say such a large amount of building on greenbelt land is totally unacceptable.
The company’s claim that 1,650 jobs will be created has been questioned while Wigan Council has also been confronted with issues over the planning system and its long-term economic direction.
However, db symmetry has robustly defended its information and how it has calculated the benefits to Wigan.
One of the most open sceptics is Wigan and Leigh Green Party leader Will Patterson.
He said: “It’s been suggested the proposed development on the green belt is a dilemma between the environment and employment. The truth is, it’s bad news for both.
“The loss of green space and increased pollution through extra traffic is bad enough for the borough’s environment and health.
“Look at trends in logistics: we’ve seen the Government announce more funding for driverless technology, and last month Shop Direct announced they were closing three sites in Greater Manchester at a cost of 2,000 jobs to replace them with an automated hub.
“It’s becoming easier to buy and maintain drones than employ humans, and we need to stop putting our faith in a sector that will offer people fewer and fewer opportunities.
“As long as Wigan Council is leaning on logistics for its economic plan, it’s sitting on a jobs timebomb which will ultimately see any money brought in from business rates wiped out by lost
council tax revenue and increased outgoings for benefits and support for the people who will lose their jobs to automation.
“The council is experiencing a change in leadership and that’s a perfect opportunity to change its perspective: right now, local politicians are obsessed with building roads to a gridlocked M6.
“While councillors are focused on jobs that had prospects when they were young, today’s young people are voting with their feet: they’re getting good qualifications here, then having to move away to look elsewhere for opportunities to use them.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. We’re within easy reach of four cities. If the council lobbied for better-funded public transport services we’d be better connected to them.
“We’re smack in the middle of a knowledge triangle: UClan to the north, Greater Manchester’s quality universities to the east, Edge Hill and Liverpool’s institutions to the west. Why aren’t we taking advantage to turn our borough into an innovation hub with a more diverse range of jobs?
“Councillors can create a younger, smarter, greener, more innovative and confident Wigan with green spaces preserved for future generations.
“The first step is to throw out this foolish proposal which will hurt our ecology without helping our economy.”
Criticism has also come from Winstanley ward representative Coun Paul Kenny, who said it is too likely unpopular schemes like this will get the go-ahead.
Coun Kenny said: “This application is yet again an example of local communities targeted by parasitic promoters who speculate, because they have financial might, to build big shed developments or sprawling housing developments on greenfield sites.
“The glossy brochure hides the negative impact this proposal will have on local residents who will have to live with the loss of green space, agricultural land, poor road infrastructure, air pollution and the sprawl that will merge Ashton with Wigan.
“Now more than ever, we need to put people at the heart of the planning system. For far too long planning is something that happens to local communities rather than local people being at the heart of those decisions that directly impact their lives.
“There is an imbalance that favours large developers whose primary function is to maximise profit, not to meet genuine community need.
“This imbalance exists because successive governments have chosen to weaken planning rules to favour those big developers.”
The criticisms have drawn a strong response from db symmetry, which cited its previous work on the nearby M6 Epic site.
Managing director Andrew Dickman said: “The jobs that symmetry park will bring have been robustly calculated based on standard published guidance for the industry, which uses the proposed floorspace of the development. This is best practice and we follow it to the book.
“People are too quick to dismiss the logistics sector and the careers it offers. From entry-level operative jobs to supply chain managers, there will be a whole range of jobs on offer and we are sure that Wigan residents want to see jobs created more than anything.
“With robots improving efficiency, there will be a need for more staff to process and quality-check increased orders. Add this to the design, installation and servicing of high tech equipment, and you get skilled jobs available.
“The Wigan Employment Land Position Statement shows that Wigan needs to do more to attract and retain businesses that require larger, modern premises. It shows an immediate need for high-quality sites with access to the M6.
“We’re committed to helping Wigan Council meet its growth targets and ultimately attract further investment into this area.”
A Wigan Council spokesman said: “Any planning application which is submitted will be assessed by the council as the local planning authority. We understand the importance for communities to have their say and we do provide them with this opportunity during the planning process.
“db symmetry also hosted community consultation events due to local interest.”
Residents could visit St Aidan’s Parish Centre and The Deanery High School to find out more.