Inspectors Report 2013 (extracted contents related to M6 J25)

Issue 7 – Whether the proposed broad locations for new

development are justified, effective and consistent with national

policy

 

Junction 25, M6 motorway, south of Wigan

 

64. The proposed broad location at Junction 25 of the M6 is within the

Green Belt. The Government attaches great importance to Green

Belts and Paragraph 83 of the NPPF makes it clear that once

established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in

exceptional circumstances.

 

65. Although the boundaries of the broad location are not defined in the

Core Strategy, Policy SP4.5 refers to a location of around 40 hectares

with access from the A49, at or very close to the roundabout at the

end of the M6 spur road. The Council’s schedule of proposed changes

submitted to the examination (CS01) includes suggested

amendments to the wording of the policy and I have taken these into

account. The suggested amendments would include reducing the

area concerned to around 30 hectares and specifying that

development will be focused to the west of the A49. They would also

include specific reference to mitigation measures, including

landscaping and green barriers.

 

66. The Green Belt in this location occupies land between the built up

areas of Wigan and Ashton-in-Makerfield and separates the two

settlements. Even with the Council’s suggested amendments, the

proposed broad location would allow for a substantial area of

development, beyond the existing built up area. In terms of the

purposes of Green Belts, it would involve the sprawl of the built up

area and encroachment into the countryside. Depending on the

specific boundaries of the site to be developed I accept that a gap

between the built up areas could be retained, the M6 spur road would

represent a physical and visual barrier and the settlements would not

necessarily merge. However, given the scale of development

envisaged and the need to gain access from or near the roundabout it

is likely that the gap would be significantly eroded and the perception

of two distinct settlements would be substantially undermined. There

would be a significant reduction in the openness of the Green Belt in

this location.

 

67. In addition to its Green Belt function, the land in question forms part

of the countryside around Wigan and Ashton-in-Makerfield and whilst

it is not recognised as having particular landscape value, in its current

undeveloped form, it contributes positively to the overall character

and appearance of the settlements. Although there is no public

access to most of the land, it is crossed by public rights of way which

provide a recreational resource for the local community. Depending

on the nature of detailed development proposals, public rights of way

could be maintained or at least re-routed. However, their value as a

recreational resource would be affected as they would inevitably pass

through or very close to areas of significant employment

development rather than open land.

 

68. Whilst the development of the broad location would involve an

increase in traffic and introduce additional employment uses close to

residential areas, I am satisfied that subject to detailed layout and

design and appropriate mitigation, this would not have an

unacceptable effect on highway safety, air quality or the living

conditions of local residents. The land in question is not subject to

any designations in terms of biodiversity.

 

69. As I have noted above in relation to Issue 3, a justifiable and

effective level of employment land provision in the borough as a

whole over the plan period would be approximately 200 hectares.

This would enable development rates to increase significantly above

recent trends and allow for considerable flexibility and choice. It

would provide significant opportunities for economic growth in the

borough. This level of provision can be achieved from existing sites,

town centre opportunities and the proposed broad locations for new

development involving safeguarded land. The broad location at

Junction 25 of the M6 is not therefore required to provide an

adequate supply of employment land across the borough as a whole.

 

70. Within this context and given the scale of the proposal and the uses

envisaged, it would have the potential to undermine efforts to

promote regeneration elsewhere in the borough, for instance by

diverting demand for offices away from town centres.

 

71. The Council’s justification for the proposed broad location is largely

based on its view that there is a need for a site of exceptional quality

within the M6 corridor to diversify and enhance the portfolio of land

available and attract inward investment. According to the Council,

the key distinguishing features of such sites are that they are of an

appropriate scale (at least 8 hectares), within close proximity

(maximum 10 minute drive time) of a junction on the M6, visible

from the M6 and with good power supply and broadband links.

 

72. Policy SP4.5 refers to the broad location providing for high quality

industrial and logistics (storage and distribution) development. The

Council’s suggested amendments would refer to a high quality

employment park comprising offices, industrial, manufacturing and

logistics. There appears to be some uncertainty therefore as to what

form the development is intended to take. It also appears that the

evidence to justify the proposal and assess site options was largely

based on the development of storage and distribution uses, given the

particular emphasis on sites with good access to the M6.

 

73. There would clearly be some advantages in making a site available

for employment uses with good access to the M6, particularly for

storage and distribution uses. However, the evidence to support a

specific maximum drive time of 10 minutes to a motorway junction as

a criterion appears largely anecdotal. I am not convinced that such a

specific requirement is necessarily a critical factor in attracting

employment uses, particularly for those not involving storage and

distribution, or that sites a little further away would not offer a

reasonable prospect of attracting businesses.

 

74. Likewise, although I appreciate that some businesses may prefer a

location which is highly visible from the motorway, there is

insufficient substantive evidence to specifically justify this as an

essential factor in selecting sites of exceptional quality compared with

for instance, proximity to a supply of labour and public transport

accessibility. I have doubts therefore about the particular weighting

given to these specific criteria in the site selection process.

 

75. I am also concerned that whilst factors such as agricultural land

classification, heritage designations and other environmental

designations were taken into account in the initial site selection

process, no account was taken of the clear policy difference towards

land within and outside of the Green Belt.

 

76. Notwithstanding this, I also have concerns regarding how the land at

Junction 25 has been assessed in relation to the criteria. Although

the land is prominent from the spur road linking with the A49, and on

a key route into Wigan, it is not clearly visible from the main

carriageway of the motorway itself.

 

77. Furthermore, Junction 25 is a one way junction on the motorway. It

only provides direct access to or from the south. As Paragraphs 4.4

and 4.5 of the GVA Stage 1 Report (6.3.1) point out, the M6 is a key

north-south national motorway link and typical requirements within

the logistics and distribution sector include the need to have direct

access to strategic road networks (motorways) including two-way

junctions.

 

78. Vehicles travelling north on the M6 from the land in question would

either have to pass through the urban area to reach Junction 26 or

travel south on the motorway to Junction 24 and turn around using

the bridge carrying the A58 as I understand is the case with existing

businesses on the Wheatlea Industrial Estate. There is no

substantive evidence to support the view that the majority of

commercial traffic is likely to travel south. It seems to me that given

the particular emphasis placed on access to the motorway network,

insufficient account has been taken of the specific circumstances

relating to Junction 25.

 

79. Whilst I note the scale of the proposal and the emphasis on storage

and distribution uses, in principle the type of employment uses

envisaged are typical of those found on employment sites within the

borough and elsewhere and in the case of offices, within town

centres; they are not exceptional.

 

80. In conclusion therefore the proposed broad location for development at 

Junction 25 of the M6 would significantly reduce the openness of

the Green Belt and be contrary to the purposes of including land

within it. The loss of open countryside would adversely affect the

overall character and appearance of Wigan and Ashton-in-Makerfield

and the recreational value of public rights of way would be affected.

The broad location is not required to provide an adequate supply of

employment land across the borough as a whole. The types of uses

envisaged are typical of those that could be accommodated on

existing or proposed sites elsewhere.

 

81. I have doubts regarding the definition of a site of exceptional quality

and the criteria used to assess site options. In any case, the land in

question does not in my view fully comply with these criteria. It is

not clearly visible from the main carriageway of the M6 and only has

direct access to a one way motorway junction.

 

82. I accept that development of the proposed broad location would

potentially provide jobs and inward investment on a significant scale

and there are clearly some locational advantages in terms of

proximity to the M6. I also accept that the proposed development

would in principle be viable and deliverable although there is no

substantive evidence to suggest that it necessarily provides

significant advantages in terms of delivery compared with other

existing and potential sites. In this respect it would be effective.

 

83. Taking all of these factors into account, the benefits of the proposed

broad location in terms of potential investment and job creation are

not sufficient to outweigh the adverse effects in relation to the Green

Belt and other matters. Exceptional circumstances to justify removal

of the land in question from the Green Belt do not exist. The

proposed broad location at Junction 25 of the M6 is neither justified

nor consistent with national policy. Main modifications MM.SP4.1

and MM.SP4.2 would remove references to the broad location and

address these concerns.

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