Heated meeting sees homes approved for Oldham green space
Reporter: Charlotte Green (Local Democracy Reporting)
Date published: 03 July 2019
Protesters branded the vote to pass the plans 'farcical'
Green land with panoramic views beloved by residents in Oldham is to be turned over to housing despite claims development would have ‘dire consequences’ for the community.
At a heated meeting of the planning committee, councillors granted housing association First Choice Homes permission to develop land at Hodge Clough in Sholver and build 32 new homes.
First Choice say they would create new ‘play opportunities’ nearby and plant trees across the estate.
But more than 265 objections had been lodged against the plans, as well as a petition which had gathered 176 signatures of support.
As it came to the crunch vote on Monday night, the meeting descended into confusion as stand-in chair Councillor Clint Phythian struggled to make the procedure clear.
Councillors had voted down Coun Garth Harkness’s proposal that the application be rejected, which meant that there was then a vote on whether it should go ahead.
But members of the public believed the application had been refused and broke into cheers, only to be disappointed seconds later when a majority of the committee gave it their backing.
It prompted shouts of ‘disgrace’ from the gallery.
Protestors had argued that the loss of the green areas would cause irreparable damage to the local area and its sense of community.
They said the land is currently used for dog walking, children’s kick-abouts and community activities, including Bonfire Night fireworks.
Objector and Hodge Clough resident Tony Martin told the committee the new development would ‘totally ruin’ the identity of the area.
“The amenity green space at Hodge Clough is the heart of our community, it gives us a sense of place and has been instrumental in forging this excellent example of how communities can be rebuilt even after the mistakes of the past,” he said.
“Don’t sacrifice our quality of life to chip a few houses off the quotas.
“Overdeveloping existing thriving communities will harm them forever.”
First Choice say there are proposals to create new ‘play opportunities’ on Angelico Rise, including ‘glacial boulders’ for climbing, and a dry ‘stream bed’ with a ‘fallen tree’ to climb across.
And there would be 70 new trees planted across the Sholver estate.
But Mr Martin mocked this, telling councillors: “When I was a lad you had some dog muck on a stick and that was a play opportunity, but no one would swap you a packet of crisps for it.
“We can’t chuck a ball for our dogs or teach our children to ride a bike in safety in a pocket park or amphitheatre.”
St James ward Councillor Cath Ball, who also spoke against the application, said peregrine falcons live and feed at the site, as well as other bird and wildlife including newts and foxes.
“Whilst we recognise the need for housing, we ask why when they are available, other plots haven’t been considered,” she said.
“There is no large play area for children to play games and have imaginative play, which is what we have now.”
Planning officer Graham Dickman told the meeting that six of the houses would be for open market sale, seven for shared ownership, and 19 for rent-to-buy.
These properties would be split between two, three and four bedroom family houses and two, two bedroom apartments.
“So although they are social housing schemes as such, you’ll see from the character of those types of housing, what we’re looking for are aspiring people,” he said.
“They might not have the funding, they might not have the mortgage potential at the moment but these are the sort of people – this is the opportunity they would be given to move on that first step of the ladder.
“There will be a loss of open space, you can’t get away from that, but there is mitigation for that.”
Speaking on behalf of First Choice Homes, Jamie Smith said: “The benefits of the scheme far outweigh the loss of the open space.
“It would make significant contribution toward the provision of affordable family housing within the local area, it provides an opportunity to create a more vibrant and cohesive environment for residents living in Sholver.”
Councillors voted to approve the application.
A decision on the other First Choice Homes application for 27 houses on open space at Pearly Bank in Sholver was deferred.
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