OMEGA 8 site in St Helens Green Belt should stay green

29th April 2021

CPRE Lancashire, Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester objects to the application for further warehousing on the site of locally loved greenspace and agricultural land in St Helens.

CPRE, in support of the Bold and Clock Face Action Group, has objected to the application by TJ Morris for 2 million M2 of warehouse development in St Helens designated Green Belt. There is considerable local opposition, including from several local parish councils.

We consider there to be an environmental limit to how big the shed-cluster at Junction 8 of M62 can grow. We oppose the loss of ecology and of high-grade farmland, and highlight the harm to the landscape character and visual appearance, along with other negative effects.

The 75-hectare application site is currently in use for agriculture and woodland. Large ground works are required including redirecting the Whittle Brook River, which currently flows north to south through the middle of the site. There is a further watercourse (Barrow Brook) that crosses the north east corner. The environmental effects are viewed as predominately harmful and due to scale substantive.

The land supports an abundance of wildlife, some of which is protected, in the scattered areas of deciduous wood land priority habitats, including Booth’s Wood, a designated Local Wildlife Site, which lie immediately next to the south west boundary, and Duck Wood and Finch plantations located to the south. The ecology of the site is considered important locally and there is concern that the harm on site will not be overcome by the design, and mitigation, much of which is off-site.

Brownfield sites should be used in preference to agricultural land

For generations, the land has been farmed and it is believed to be of high grade. CPRE is concerned that future generations need food security and farmland of this quality must not be sacrificed so easily, particularly when there are so many previously developed sites lying in a vacant and neglected condition across St Helens.

The natural landscape reflects local historical and cultural associations with field boundaries and hedgerows, and there is concern regarding the local heritage of the area from such a large unsympathetic building and huge amount of HGV activity that will be induced 24 hours/ 7 days a week. There are several listed heritage assets in the vicinity. The local rural landscape character will be lost as the area is urbanised with exceptionally large sheds. The tranquillity of the area will be lost and there will be problems of noise, vibration and night glow.

Local people enjoy the footpath (PROW no:102) for health and well-being benefits (especially so during Covid lockdown), which provides access to the land within the application site in the northwest and runs north to south via a footbridge over the M62 past Bold Old Hall Farm connecting Dog Kennel Plantation and Home Farm to the A57. It forms part of the Bold Loop. The development of the large sheds would undeniably bring immense and unsympathetic built intrusions into the area that will dominate the landscape. CPRE agrees with the local community that it would spoil the rural character.

Bold Forest Area Action Plan ignored

What is particularly galling is that the applicant has ignored the adopted Bold Forest Park Area Action Plan, that forms part of the St Helens development plan. The Action Plan, adopted in 2017, seeks for the Bold Forest Park area to become a place for outdoor recreation and activity encouraging economic growth, principally in the visitor economy, whilst providing leisure opportunities for the community and wider region. The local equestrian sector is important and attracts users from outside the area due to a lack of supply, and it needs open land and bridleways to operate. The application is contrary to this and several other local plan policies, in addition to being contrary to the nationally significant Green Belt designation.

The development is agreed as inappropriate in the Green Belt. The developer claims the economic benefits in terms of investment, jobs and skills will be so great that they outweigh the harms, but the level of benefits claimed by the applicant is disputed. Local people are concerned the type of jobs are low value, will narrow the local business base, and will not really make a difference to the deprivation that exists in local areas. Recently, the number of jobs claimed at application stage for other large warehouses, such as Florida Farm, have simply not materialised. There is no evidence to prove these developments have had a beneficial impact on the fortune on the deprived areas of St Helens. The logistics sector is increasingly automated, and the job number yielded is low when considering the land take. The longevity of the jobs is of concern and the fact once developed the land will never be returned to rural uses such as agriculture that better supports ecology.

This call-in inquiry is part of a series of speculative applications for logistic developments in the Green Belt, including those at Parkside, Haydock Point, Wigan Junction 25 and Wingates, Bolton. CPRE is strongly opposed to the unplanned way in which the Green Belt is being attacked. In terms of keeping some land permanently open and to enable sustainable development, it is much better to have a planned and more strategic approach to such large scale development to reduce the economic, social and environmental impacts, while optimising the benefits.

CPRE is to engage with the examination in public of the emerging St Helens Local Plan, which is scheduled to start 25th May. It is seeking policies and allocations to support countryside protection and enhancement in the future, including continued protection of land in the Green Belt. The area has considerable brownfield land identified on its registers and this should be the focus of new development.

Looking for local walks in the Bold and Clock Face area? – try the Bold Loop.

Full details and map here:

https://www.merseyforest.org.uk/things-to-do/walks-bike-rides-and-more/walks/bold-loop/

Path in Clock Face Colliery Country Park
Path in Clock Face Colliery Country Park © Copyright Richard Cooke and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Quernmore landscape