CHARLES GRAHAM - Winners and losers in strategy dilemma

OUR Wigan Evening Post front page just about summed up the dilemma often facing those who want to bring prosperity to local areas.

“Come on in, build where you like” is a rarely heard invitation these days, as economic enhancement tries to tread a sensitive line with environmental and residential concerns.

On a piece of green belt land close to junction 25 of the M6 at Land Gate, Wigan Council had earmarked a large site for industrial development on the draft version of its Core Strategy.

Such blueprints for future planning decisions commonly have to explore the hitherto unthinkable.

The words “green” and “belt” are bound to get alarm bells ringing when anyone suggests putting buildings on it.

After all, the whole reason for designating land as green belt in the first place was to protect our woodlands and pastures from a construction free-for-all.

But the local authority is trying to boost the flagging local economy during tough times.

It recognises that our large borough is more than two-thirds countryside and there are only so many places where you can build without treading on someone’s corns.

Granted, folk will always come up with alternative sites that are currently standing unused.

It grieves me to see the wasteland off Frog Lane that used to be Regent Truck site every time I drive past it, for instance.

But you also have to account for making sites accessible.

A commercial estate slap bang next to a motorway makes logistical and environmental sense because workers, customers and suppliers (the latter often in very large lorries) can hop straight on and off the M-way without snarling up our town centres and B roads.

And, seeing as motorways are pretty disfiguring to the countryside per se, it can be argued that you may as well pile up as many ugly, grey, corrugated buildings and sterile office blocks either side of one as anywhere else.

Yet, as one councillor observed this week, it is highly noticeable to M6 users that you drive all the way up this route surrounded by commercial development then, as you get to Haydock Island suddenly it’s nothing but green fields. Pleasant, yes, but right?

I do remember being told by a former local authority economic investment bod that Wigan Council was always much more judicious about its selection of sites for development, keen as it was, he said, to avoid “ending up like Warrington” with an endless, featureless spread of low-rise commercial development based on an “invest at any cost” mantra.

But perhaps in these more straitened times, Wigan has reviewed that policy.

Anyway, the officers and councillors supporting the Junction 25 plan have been thwarted by the Government inspector overseeing the strategy who has told them to look elsewhere.

So there we have it: on the one hand an opportunity for hundreds of jobs in the Land Gate area gone begging, and on the other lots of delighted residents who never wanted an ugly and truck-heavy industrial estate on their doorsteps in the first place.

With alternative options limited, one wonders where the council will look next and also what the public and the inspector’s reaction will be.