To cries of “shambles” and “kangaroo court” from the public gallery, Oldham’s planning committee has given consent to a controversial scheme by Russell Homes to build 265 houses and a link road off Knowls Lane.
At last night’s planning committee, well-attended by local residents, many of whom have been vehemently opposing the scheme, Oldham Council voted in line with officer recommendation to approve the scheme, despite initially refusing it at committee last year.
Russells is proposing to build a mix of houses on the undeveloped plot, which has been allocated for housing under Oldham’s Local Plan since 2006, albeit for 232 homes.
The 39-acre site in the Lees area of Oldham is primarily greenfield land and stretches from Knowls Lane to the south to mature woodland and Thornley Brook to the north.
Speaking against the development and representing local residents, Sue Hodgkiss said: “The developers have pointed out there has been no development in this ward for five to 10 years; there’s a good reason for that. The area is full and running out of space due to excessive development in the past. We realise Oldham has housing targets but we urge you to be strong and guided by your own common sense in realising this development is not suited for this site.
“It would harm the community and would change the characteristics of the villages of Lees, Springhead, and Grotton forever.”
Thomas Relph, planning and land manager at Russells Homes put forward the developer’s case.
“We support the officer’s view that there has been too little housing delivered over the last decade in Saddleworth and Lees, leaving a shortage of family and affordable housing.
“It is an objective of the council that everybody has a quality home to live in, and it is a requirement of Local Authorities to facilitate this by delivering sufficient housing across the borough. At present, the council are not able to provide this function and have a significant shortfall in their supply.”
Relph pointed out that even taking into account brownfield land, the council had less than three years’ supply of housing land, below the minimum requirement of five years. He added there was “considerable desire and demand” from local families and first-time buyers “within and outside the area” for the new homes.
The link road, he said, was adopted in Oldham Council’s development plan and would meet one of the council’s “long-term aspirations”. He also reiterated the fact the land was private, and not within the Green Belt.
Cllr Garth Harkness argued “nothing had been done” to address residents’ concerns over the link road and the additional traffic the development would create, and accused the developer of being “greedy” by building on more of the plot than he felt was necessary. Relph responded by citing research from “four transport engineers” who said it would provide a benefit to the area.
Following the cases for and against, an initial motion to refuse was defeated by five votes to three; with shouts from the chamber calling for a decision to be deferred, and a confused break where the process of putting forward a motion to approve was explained, another vote was held.
Commitee chair Cllr Clint Phythian, councillor for Royton North, initially announced the decision was unanimous to an incredulous response from other speakers. A final figure of the vote was not announced by the chairman, who simply said the application had been approved, before adjourning the meeting. The decision was greeted by a wave of heckles from the public gallery.
The application was approved subject to conditions. Overall, Russells is proposing up to 265 homes; the mix of size, type, and tenure will be determined via a reserved matters application but at present the developer is proposing 60 affordable homes, around 23% of the total.
According to planner Barton Willmore, the development will realise a number of economic benefits. These include a £37.4m investment in the construction phase, along with 150 construction jobs over seven years; more than £416,000 per year in council tax revenues; and a £1.3m new homes bonus.
The planner added the new link road, worth approximately £3.5m, would address “a known bottleneck within the local highway network” and would provide “enhanced connectivity between the north and south side of Thornley Brook valley”.