Hulton Park public inquiry: CPRE’s position
On 6th of October 2022 a public inquiry opened in Bolton concerning an appeal by Peel L&P Investments (North) Limited against Bolton Council’s refusal of its revised proposal for an enlarged golf resort (hotel with lodges, conference centre, golf academy, access roads, district centre, etc) and major housing development at Hulton Park, which is a Grade II listed Registered Park and Garden (RPG) in Bolton’s countryside. It was confirmed that the Secretary of State would not recover this decision.
Peel has an extant permission for a similar major scheme, granted by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State in July 2020. However, this is restricted by a condition (imposed due to CPRE’s campaigning) that states development can only proceed if the Ryder Cup is secured, as it is only then that very special circumstances would exist to build in the Green Belt.
Jackie Copley, Planning Director of CPRE Lancashire, Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester spoke out against the scheme. She confirmed that initially, CPRE had welcomed the revised proposals, which targeted 30% less land in Green Belt and sought to address some residents’ concerns about green corridors and community facilities. But the revised proposal on 250 hectares of Green Belt land still constitutes inappropriate development with significant harm to its purpose.
She explained that the revised proposal involves an increased area of unbuilt land, with a further 89 hectares of land, predominately farmland and ancient woodland, designated in the local plan as Other Protected Open Land would be developed. The total impact would be even more harms to ecology, specifically protected farm bird species in steep decline, dwindling good grade soils, and loss of rural landscape character and adverse visual effects that arise during both construction and occupation, leading to permanent loss of countryside. CPRE does not want either proposal to go ahead, but if it had to choose the original involved less unbuilt land in the countryside and less harm to the heritage asset of Hulton Park RPG.
The advice of Chris Gallagher and Elaine Taylor, both experts in historic landscapes, is that the features of the Georgian park will not be recognised once the championship golf course is built over it, with the grouping of trees that are a major element in such a design, being lost for the hotel, conference centre, golf academy, creation of fairways, water features, greens, bunkers, and other golf paraphernalia. The revisions to introduce lodges will only further erode the historical elements and landscape character. The rarity of the RPG is not being valued.
Many of the benefits lauded by Peel are considered by local people to be harms, for example the rerouting of the Public Rights of Way, which are currently along field boundaries with beautiful views, would limit walkers to the golf resort boundary next to a high fence and are objected to by walkers and Bolton Ramblers.
The reality is Bolton already has many golf courses, some in the ownership of Peel that have been progressed for housing, and there are other championship sized golf courses in the wider area, which are better suited to hosting the Ryder Cup, as they have a tradition and experience of golf.
CPRE has continued to support HEART (Hulton Estate Area Residents Together) a local community group who is strongly opposed to the proposed development. Sandra Hesketh told of the harms to the ancient woodland habitats that have been undisturbed for many decades. Mr Phil Woods highlighted the economic and viability case made by the applicant were flimsy. The extant scheme is not viable, and neither is the revised one and it will lead to affordable housing and a host of other elements of infrastructure important when delivering sustainable development not being delivered.