Huge new warehouse plan signed off despite ‘inescapable’ impact on green belt

A huge new warehouse is to be built at an industrial estate despite the ‘inescapable’ impact it will have on the surrounding green belt. Standing at 15m tall and covering nearly 90,000 square foot the building will replace two smaller units at Birch Business Park, near Heywood.

It will be around double the size of the existing buildings with an increase in height of approximately eight meters. The replacement warehouse will be closer to the western boundary of the estate as a result of the increase in size – and also more visible, particularly from the south.

Rochdale council’s planning committee narrowly voted to approve the scheme – part of an ongoing redevelopment of the park – when it met on Thursday night. Despite representing ‘inappropriate development in the green belt’, officers had recommended granting permission on the grounds the economic benefits amounted to ‘very special circumstances’.

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A report to members accepted it was ‘inescapable’ that a much larger building would result in a ‘greater impact on the openness of the green belt’. But it said the development would help Restore Ltd ‘consolidate’ its operation – the firm having recently taken a 20-year lease on a neighboring unit – and contribute to the ‘clear need for additional employment and industrial space within the borough’.

Based close to Heywood Distribution Park, the site sits within the ‘Northern Gateway’ – a major employment zone within Greater Manchester’s ‘Places for Everyone’ development plan. Bill Ullathorne, of applicant Yeargate Ltd, told the committee the scheme would complete the ‘modernisation’ of the business park and make it ‘much better’.

CGI of how new warehouse could look at Birch Business Park, Heywood.

He said: “We are getting rid of two very old obsolete buildings, really. When you walk in they feel really crowded. I can touch the ceiling almost it feels like, compared to when you go into Unit D [the new-build already occupied by Restore Ltd]. Mr Ullathorne said the development would be well screened by trees and a landscape assessment had found the visual impact would be ‘minimal’.

Councilor Peter Rush – also chair of Heywood Township Committee – welcomed the proposals. “I think it’s very, very beneficial,” he said.

However, not all members of the committee were convinced. Councillor Shah Wazir said he was ‘really concerned’ about the scheme – and did not feel ‘comfortable’ about giving it the go-ahead. “Slowly but surely that green belt and green space is being taken up and more development is taking place,” he said.

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Coun Wazir noted that officers had cited economic benefits as justification for allowing ‘inappropriate development’ – but was not satisfied with the reasoning.

“When are we going to take a stand and say ‘these are very important patches and we have to protect them?’ I have continued. “It’s not like there’s nothing there, but further encroachment on to the green belt is not acceptable.”

He was backed by Coun Pat Sullivan, who disagreed that ‘very special circumstances’ were at play. “We are going the wrong way on this,” she said.

However, at the vote four councillors were against the proposal and five in favor – with chair Coun Shakeel Ahmed’s casting vote tipping the balance. Rochdale council’s planning and licensing committee met at Number One Riverside on Thursday night (April 14).

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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