Planners agreed to depart from local policy and allow construction on the green belt as an ambitious scheme for an old waste recycling site got the go-ahead.
Wigan Council’s planning committee approved Maxilead Limited’s application to transform the Parr Bridge Works in Tyldesley into up to 154 homes as well as retail and community facilities.
The proposals were unusual and somewhat controversial as about half the development involves use of green belt land in addition to building on Maxilead’s old site as well as the Worsley Business Park.
The idea did not meet with universal approval, with councillors on the committee only passing the plans by seven votes to four.
Elected members also expressed surprise at how few objections there had been.
Officers told the meeting that the council believed “very special circumstances”, where the benefits of building on the green belt clearly outweigh the harm done, apply in this case.
The committee heard Maxilead Limited has received 39 complaints in the past six years about its activities, 29 going to the Environment Agency and 10 to the council. That has led the firm to seek its future elsewhere as the area around the Mosley Common Road site has become increasingly built-up.
However, the committee was also told there was a capital shortfall of around £3.23m in the relocation figures which would have to be made up by building more houses, necessitating the inclusion of the green belt.
David Proctor, the council’s service manager for development management, said: “National policy on this is now based on whether the land is viable for employment and the complaints suggest uses for this site are limited.
“The use of greenbelt land is also considered acceptable, although half the site being in the green belt would by definition be inappropriate.
“This is a specific, one-off project, the green belt aims to protect the setting and character of historic towns or preventing sprawl are not relevant here and the effects are relatively minor.”
The committee heard the scheme currently did not include any affordable housing but planners said it was hoped this could be changed should the profit level prove higher than thought.
Councillors said the proposal managed to retain green belt land in the area and a footpath while acknowledging something had to be done about the problem of residents living close to the recycling centre.
Coun Stephen Hellier, however, made a passionate defence of the green belt as he explained why he did not approve.
He said: “The green belt has served us well since 1947, stopping sprawl and splitting up urban development. As far as I am concerned it is sacrosanct.
“If you let people nibble at it everyone nibbles and then there is no green belt.”