Unpopular road schemes are to be pulled from a controversial plan to regenerate the area around Littleborough railway station. It means the closure of Hare Hill Road and the narrowing of Church Street will not be considered under a second round of consultation on the project.
The proposals – which promise an ‘uplifted village centre’ – got off to a rocky start after businesses on Victoria Street were left shocked to see their premises earmarked for demolition. Further suggestions included a new ‘gateway’ public square, refurbishment of the historic railway arches and ‘infill housing’ on ‘underutilized’ brownfield land.
Rochdale council held an eight-week public consultation during October and December last year – although this led to a further backlash over the ‘inaccurate’ images, which appeared to show Hare Hill Road would be permanently closed to traffic. An update on the scheme – formally known as ‘the draft Littleborough station area Supplementary Planning Document (SPD)’ – was given at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.
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Mark Robinson, acting director of economy, told councilors there was broad support for some proposals. These included improvements around the station to create a more ‘appealing gateway’ (58pc in favour) and refurbishment of the arches (72pc in favour) as well as an appetite for increased car parking.
But people were less enthusiastic about a new ‘village heart’ – potentially holding outdoor events – centered around the junction of Church Street/Hare Hill Road and station approach.
Mr Robinson said there was no intention to close Hare Hill Road, but the consultation images had given people the wrong impression. The proposed narrowing of Church Street also ‘fed into the negativity’ around that part of the scheme, I added.
As a result council chiefs pledged that Hare Hill Road would not be permanently closed, nor would there be any narrowing of Church Street.
Councilor John Blundell, cabinet member for economy, said: “I’m going to recommend we pull that part out of the plan and promise there will be no closure to Hare Hill Road because some people would be adversely affected.”
But he said it was still important to ‘improve the pedestrian environment’ so cafes could ‘spill out on to the street’ and the village was able to host more events such as the food festival. “That’s what makes Littleborough such a nice village to be in – too often the village center is dominated by cars,” he added.
A commitment not to narrow Church Street was also given – although Coun Blundell said the intention had always been about creating more space for pedestrians. “What we need to do when we go out for the next step is to make that much clearer. There was some confusion, people thought the road was going to be narrowed, which isn’t necessarily the case. It can be around widening the paths.”
Plans to flatten some ‘low quality commercial units’ in Victoria Street have been the most controversial aspect of the scheme – particularly as business owners said they were ‘kept in the dark’ over the proposal.
In a statement after the meeting, Coun Blundell said the SPD would now be updated ahead of a second round of consultation. This would ‘make it clear that the council will work with existing businesses to improve the area to help increase footfall and boost the early evening economy’.
He added: “Where there are a very small number of units on this street which are in a poor state of repair, the council will seek to support the businesses within them by improving their premises and surroundings or assisting with relocation to new commercial units within the same area.”
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However, Conservative group leader Ashley Dearnley believes the cabinet should have gone further and scrapped the Victoria Street proposals.
Speaking after the meeting he said: “The Victoria Street element of the proposals should be taken out of the plan at this point. The vast majority of people don’t want to see the character of Littleborough changed, with those shops being removed and other premises being created on that site.”
Coun Dearnley has also criticized the council for not beginning consultation earlier in the process. And this was echoed during the meeting by Ian Jackson, chairman of Littleborough Civic Trust, who suggested the government guidelines and the ‘Gunning principles’ around consultation had not been adhered to.
The trust has written to Michael Gove MP – Secretary of State for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities – urging him to issue a holding direction on the station plans. This, writes secretary Michael Price, is ‘to ensure that the local community can participate in the design and implementation of any SPD which would affect Littleborough town center and the surrounding areas’.
Councilors agreed that the draft Littleborough station area Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) should go out for a second round of consultation. This will be held over the summer and the council will let people know how they can get involved nearer the time. Rochdale council’s cabinet met on Wednesday night (March 23).
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.