On Tuesday, the Bredbury Industrial Estate Expansion Planning Inquiry launched. This inquiry follows the decision of Stockport Council to reject the application of Quorum Estates for a large-scale industrial extension deep into the Tame Valley and on the border of Stockport and Tameside.
I have opposed this proposal for a number of years now and will continue to do everything I can to protect our Tame Valley from such a speculative and damaging proposal. I am taking part in this Inquiry as a Rule 6 Party. That basically means that I become an official party in the inquiry, and am given opportunity to present evidence, as well as to cross-examine the appellant’s (in this case Quorum’s) case. I am taking part as a Rule 6 Party with the express support of William Wragg MP, the Conservative representative for Hazel Grove. I made the point to the Inspector that it is unusual for an issue to unite so much condemnation from across the political spectrum!
I pride myself on being active and accessible on social media and public forums. This is so that constituents know what I’m getting up to, and what action I’m taking in Parliament and the constituency to serve the interests of the people I represent. It’s been difficult to do that this week because I’ve been stuck at my desk on the Inquiry. So, I thought it would be good to provide a brief update on how the Inquiry is going, what are the key points of dispute, and what we can expect next week.
The Inquiry opened on Tuesday with opening statements. In mine, I set out why I am so against this proposal. I referenced the damage that it will do to the green belt, the impact it will have on traffic and congestion in Denton, and the lack of demonstrated need from the developer. Stockport Council (who are defending their decision to reject the appeal) also laid out their position. Stockport and I agree on most points, although there are some points of divergence, namely the impact that the proposal will have on traffic In Denton.
Stockport then introduced their witness, the planning professional Simon Wood. Mr Wood stated that he felt that the proposal resulted in a reduction in openness, both visually and spatially, and significantly breached several policies in the Stockport Unitary Development Plan Review, as well as the Stockport Core Strategy Development Plan Deposit and the National Planning Policy Framework. He considered the supposed economic and employment benefits of the scheme and concluded that the harm to the development plan policies were too great to be mitigated by any other considerations.
Mr Wood was then cross-examined by the appellant’s lawyer for almost two hours, where his evidence was pored over in great detail.
That afternoon, we were lucky enough to hear from Dr Diane Coffey of Save Woodley’s Greenbelt. Dr Coffey reinforced the damage that this proposal will have on the Tame Valley, as well as the lack of ‘Very Special Circumstances’ to constitute a release of green belt land.
We then heard from Councillor Jack Naylor, who represents the Denton South Ward. Cllr Naylor spoke very passionately about the impact that this proposal would have on Denton, as well as his feelings of frustration at the lack of acknowledgement of Denton’s concerns. The inquiry then adjourned for the remainder of the day.
Day 2 of the Inquiry focussed on my evidence and gave me the opportunity to present my ‘evidence in chief’. I won’t pretend that this wasn’t an incredibly nerve-racking day. I spoke for almost an hour and set out and expanded upon my key objections.
I argued that the development would destroy the openness of the Valley and reinforced the historical importance of the area to the surrounding communities. I also expressed my concern that the low Ashton Rail Bridge would cause high-sided HGVs to go through Denton to avoid bridge strikes.
I was then subjected to a grilling on my evidence from the appellant’s lawyer. I was challenged on several points and did my best to express my profound concerns about the development. I also spoke at length about my own experiences in the Tame Valley, and the lack of need to destroy such a vital area of local importance. I also made the point that there has not – in my view – been sufficient work done to find alternate sites. I specifically referenced Ashton Moss West, which is currently included in Greater Manchester’s Places for Everyone plan.
I then introduced my expert, Nick Fenwick. Mr Fenwick is the Interim Assistant Director Planning and Transportation at Tameside Council. He has been an incredible asset to me over the course of the Inquiry, and I am very grateful for him taking the time out of his busy schedule to make the case against this development. Tameside Council allowed Mr Fenwick to appear to support my key arguments, especially relating to green belt policy. Mr Fenwick outlined the damage that the proposed site would do to the visual amenity in the valley, as well as the risk of noise and light pollution.
Mr Fenwick was then cross-examined by the appellant’s lawyer, before we broke for lunch.
In the afternoon we were joined by Councillor George Newton and Councillor Claire Reid. They spoke for a significant period of time about the proposed site, and the impact it will have on Denton. Cllr Reid highlighted a failure on the part of the appellant to recognise the unique topography of the landscape, and the benefits of open green space for the residents of Denton South. We then adjourned for the remainder of the day.
On day three we benefitted from the perspective of a number of interests parties including Steve Marsland – Head Teacher of Russell Scott Primary School.
Steve gave a powerful testimony to the Inquiry. He spoke about the impact that pollution has on the health of children across Tameside, and the effect that the proposal will have on an already industrialised area. He then showed a video to the inquiry, which was put together with the help of students at Russell Scott Primary School. It was great to see young people getting involved and standing up for what they believed in.
We then moved on to the ‘Case for The Appellants’, beginning with Colin Robinson, who gave evidence in favour of the developer’s case. Mr Robinson argued that there was a need for employment land. His methodology was questioned robustly by the John Barrett, the lawyer representing Stockport Council. Mr Barrett argued that Mr Robinson had not adequately demonstrated that employment need could not be meet elsewhere, or at other sites.
After hearing from Mr Robinson, we adjourned for the remainder of the day.
On Friday, we started the day by hearing from Andrew Pexton, who spoke in favour of the developer and demand for employment land. Mr Pexton was queried on his methodology by Stockport, as well as on his assumption that other sites could not meet the demand for employment land.
I cross-examined Mr Pexton, and asked him why an alternative site (Ashton Moss West) was not being considered. I pointed out to him that Ashton Moss has better transport links, is already earmarked for employment land, and is not constrained in the same way that the Tame Valley is.
We then moved on to Transport. Now, Transport is a part of the proposal that Stockport are not seeking to query, so it fell to me to press the developer on a number of key points.
I asked their Transport expert (Christopher Hargreaves) a number of questions about the Ashton Road Bridge. I also evidenced my concerns with several emails that I have received as a Member of Pariliament which highlight the fact that a number of HGVs are detouring through Denton to avoid going underneath the bridge. This cross-examination lasted for over 40 minutes, and it was a brilliant opportunity for me to express my profound concerns both to the Inspector, and the developer.
Next week, we will be hearing the appellant’s case on Planning, Landscape, Visual and Green Belt matters. I will again be given the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses where I see fit and will also be keeping local residents updated on the progress of the inquiry. The Inspector is due to visit the Tame Valley next Friday, and then we will close (all going to plan) on Tuesday the 15th of February and await a decision.
This is not a process that I would do again in a hurry. It is quite intimidating being faced with lawyers and interested parties and is extremely technical and time consuming. However, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to represent the concerns of the people I represent, and to hold the appellant to account.
I will continue to do everything I can to try and get this appeal refused. I grew up wondering the Tame Valley and exploring its incredible landscape. I now delight in doing the same with my own family. Our green spaces are precious and deserve to be protected at all costs. The Tame Valley is ours. It is not for sale. I will continue to make that case.