Some of the views from a Wigan beauty spot are set to be lost after councillors voted to raise the height of a former landfill site.
The work to “reprofile” Parbold Hill Quarry is designed to prevent contaminated water “leaching” through buried household and commercial waste – and potentially polluting groundwater.
Lancashire County Council’s development control committee was split over the decision – after deferring the matter last month so that members could visit the location to see the potential impact of the plans first-hand.
Around 200,000 tonnes of inert material and clays will be imported into the site over a period of 18 months, with the area fully restored within two years.
However, the work will result in parts of the plot being raised by up to seven metres – obliterating some aspects of the outlook from a popular layby on the A5209, which looks out across West Lancashire towards Liverpool.
Principal planning officer Jonathan Haine accepted that the loss of the outlook would be something that the committee had to “weigh in the balance”.
At the last meeting where the plan was discussed, Mr Haine said that the long-distance views from the vantage point should be maintained, but those across the Douglas Valley would “probably” be lost.
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Committee member Kevin Ellard condemned the proposal for causing the “significant industrialisation of the countryside”.
Concerns were also raised about traffic – in spite of a requirement to reduce the speed limit on a stretch of the A5209 to 40mph and investigate whether temporary traffic lights were needed at the site entrance.
Cllr Margaret Pattison said that traffic “is not going to slow down” sufficiently as it approaches the brow of a hill on the route, close to where HGV traffic is likely to be manoeuvring.
“If lorries are turning right out of the site…that’s a blind spot and there could be a fatal accident,” she warned.
The meeting heard that the reprofiling work would reduce the amount of water leaching from the site by a quarter from current levels – and was necessary because the landfill, which ceased operation nearly 30 years ago, had not been lined as it would have been under modern standards.
Committee member Cosima Towneley said that councillors opposing the plans would be “responsible for allowing far greater damage to a great deal more of Lancashire, than if we don’t allow this to go ahead”.
“The site hasn’t been looked after, it certainly isn’t a thing of great beauty in itself and I believe that the work that will be done will hopefully make it more accessible and a much more viable beauty spot,” County Cllr Towneley said.
The proposal has attracted strong opposition locally – including from West Lancashire Borough Council and five parish councils.
Further objections had also been received by the committee since it first considered the application last month – including one from a local resident who highlighted a litany of concerns about the site found in reports by the Environment Agency earlier this year.
These included the fact that monitoring of leachate levels was “only done via a visual check which was not informed by permit limits” and that there had been a number of permit breaches at the site.
However, the agency did not object to the current proposal and noted that it would “reduce the amount of leachate generated, which is most likely finding its way into the groundwater” and also a nearby aquifer.
The applicant – Maybrook Investments Limited – said in a submission to the committee that the proposed work is the minimum required to address the problem and “will not have a long-term impact on the viewpoint – the existing layby and viewing area will be retained”.
Committee chair Barrie Yates said he had to ask himself the question: “Do I want a lovely landscape or do I want to possibly pollute the…waterway? One outweighs the other.”
The proposal – including a new condition restricting vehicle movements in and out of the site to between 9am and 4pm – was approved by six votes to five, with one abstention.
A fresh Environment Agency permit will be required before the work can begin.
In outlining his own opposition to the plans, committee member and independent county councillor Paul Hayhurst said it appeared that “the Tory caucus [on the committee] has once again made a decision – and I’m sure this will be a block vote by the Conservatives to get this through”.
Councillors making planning decisions have to approach each application with an open mind – and without having “pre-determined” their decisions before considering the issues at hand.
Failure to do so could result in a legal challenge to any committee resolution arrived at under those circumstances.
Committee chair Barrie Yates – himself a Conservative – demanded that County Cllr Hayhurst retract the “disrespectful” allegation.
However, the Fylde West member said he would wait until the outcome of the vote before deciding whether to do so.
Ultimately, six of the seven Conservative members on the committee voted to approve the proposal, with one of their number – David Foxcroft – abstaining.
Several Conservative and Labour members said that party politics should be kept out of the committee’s deliberations.