PLANS for more than 130 new homes on greenfield land in Rossendale have been given the go-ahead by borough councillors, who blamed the Government planning requirements for leaving them no grounds for refusing the scheme.

At their meeting on Tuesday night (November 17), councillors on Rossendale Borough Council’s Development Control Committee heard speeches for and against the application by Taylor Wimpey for the new homes on land off Holcombe Road and Grane Road in Helmshore.

Emotional speeches included references to the historic loss of Rossendale communities in years gone by to provide water reservoirs for Manchester and fears of contemporary communities being flooded by traffic and by surface water running-off the new estate into local rivers and homes.

More than 500 objections to the homes had been received by the borough council and an online petition had been signed by over 3,000 people against the plans.

However, Taylor Wimpey was granted permission for the development after a series of updates and negotiations unveiled at the meeting.

These included construction of 39 new affordable homes with a mix of shared ownership and affordable rent. Other updates included the use of natural stone and slate on new homes closest to the roads and an extra condition requiring Taylor Wimpey to produce details about how the estate will be adaptable to climate change and include energy efficiency principles.

Objectors said flooding was a major worry and cited other floods in recent years which had hit households and properties.

Wildlife was another area of concern with the land described as a haven for nature. Derelict ‘brownfield’ sites elsewhere could be regenerated for new homes and there were successful examples nearby, objectors said.

Extra speaking time was allocated for the controversial plans after planning officer Lauren Ashworth outlined the application and latest changes. Planning officers recommended approval and said the site was key to the borough’s overall housing plans.

Objector Andrew Taylor spoke on behalf of Grane Residents’ Association. He highlighted issues of nature, flooding, traffic levels and pollution. Bats, foxes, deer, owls, newts, frogs, toads and butterflies had been seen on the land, he said.

On flooding, he emphasised: “There have been five floods of the one-in-100-years severity in the past 15 years. The applicant’s own consultant was unable to complete a study of the site because of surface water yet we are told the run-off from this site will not increase the levels of local rivers. I’m sure the solution is not to put more water into the River Ogden.

“On traffic, I estimate an extra 1,000 vehicle movements per day from this new estate. The noise and pollution must contribute to unacceptable air pollution on Grane Road.”

The land included historical remains from old industry which he said was worth protecting.

He added: “There was a local community in Rossendale which was flooded in the past to provide water for Manchester. This time, communities will be flooded with traffic.

“There are better brownfield sites elsewhere. On behalf of over 3,000 respondents, I ask each of you to take the responsible view. Don’t let your epitaph be that you destroyed a vital environmental and biological asset.”

Next to speak was Graham Lamb, of Pegasus Planning Group, representing Taylor Wimpey. He said: “This will provide 131 much-needed family homes at a site which has been identified by the council since 2015. All the details and technical matters are acceptable, and plans have been through multiple consultations.

“It is critical for Rossendale Borough Council’s housing supply for the next five years. Without this site and other allocated sites, the whole area will be left open to speculative development on sites elsewhere.

“There will be a mix of two to four-bedroom homes and ten house types. Natural stone and slate will be used on 26 homes and there will be a remodelled dry-stone wall. Other changes include a widened footpath on Grane Road, two upgraded bus stops, road junction and roundabout works.”

Regarding climate change and flooding, the new homes would have the latest insulation measures and United Utilities and the Environment Agency supported plans for water drainage, pipes, reopening of a culvert and run-off restrictions.

Recreational, open space was four times larger than required and 170 new trees and shrubs would be planted.

In addition, through Section 106 planning agreements, Taylor Wimpey will pay £314,000 towards local school places, £74,000 towards local outdoor sports and £64,000 for other local amenities.

Then Helmshore borough councillors who are not on the development committee spoke on behalf of residents.

Conservative Coun Alan Woods said: “The borough overall may have a low rate of delivering on new homes sites but it is still a healthy number. Extra brownfield sites elsewhere could probably fulfil our obligation without building on this land.”

He suggested that supporting the Taylor Wimpey scheme would make a mockery of the borough council’s recent climate action day, its recent pledges would appear superficial. He also suggested an ecology report was 35 years out of date and the site’s nature was rich.

He asked: “How can on-site storyboards and dog waste bins replace wildflowers and bio-diversity?

The Environment Agency had only withdrawn its objection to the plan because a gas element had been taken out. That decision had then left the borough council with the problem, he claimed.

Conservative Coun Brian Essex said Helmshore had already seen considerable developments in the 16 years he had been a councillor. Locations included the station, Sunny Bank, Ogden Place and the former Airtours business site. But he said: “Every single previous development has been on brownfield sites. This new plan is for a green field site.”

He added: “The new Local Plan will go forward to the borough council on December 15. I have to remind the committee that there is no overall political control of the borough council. Many councillors voted against the draft local plan because of over development in many areas of the valley.”

However, councillors on the development committee said they sympathised with objectors but warned that refusing the Taylor Wimpey plan would probably lead to an appeal which the council would likely lose and then face heavy costs.

Labour Coun Jacqueline Oakes said: “It’s really difficult for the committee when there is a groundswell of opinion from residents. I understand that. However, if councillors are minded to overturn the officers recommendation we would need a really good reason.

“I remember the Airtours application. It had many objections and was difficult at the time. We were swayed by objections and refused the application. There were good headlines but one year later a planning inspector overturned it and sent the council a bill for £100,000.

“I totally understand why people feel emotional about this application. However I can’t find a genuine planning reason to refuse it. If there was a reason, it would be flooding. But the lead local flooding authority says the issue has been addressed. If this went to an appeal, it would be lost. Similarly with traffic issues. Also, we are here to consider this planning application for this site. This isn’t the time to talk about other sites.”

She added: “Rossendale has a shortage of modern, low-maintenance homes with space for two cars and a garden. People don’t want old terraced houses which are not energy efficient. They want nice family houses. I accept we are giving up a lot of nice things at this site but the fault is with the Government’s current planning system which gives us so little local input.”

Labour Coun Patrick Marriott agreed and recommended approval of the application. However he said: “This has been described as the Sword of Damacles. Perhaps it’s Hobson’s Choice? But there’s no doubt that this would go to an appeal if we refused it.

Independent Coun James Eaton said: “I agree but it is very difficult. We thank our planning officers for their hard work and negotiations. But if we don’t have a good reason to refuse then this would ultimately be at cost to residents of Rossendale.”

Development committee chairwoman Labour Coun Marilyn Procter added: “I thoroughly understand the emotions over this. But we have to deal with this on a planning basis.”

The committee voted to approve the updated Taylor Wimpey application with affordable homes and amended conditions.