As the MP for Warrington South I have a duty to ensure that the views of every community I represent are heard. Since my election in 2017, I have always spoken out on the issues that matter to my constituents.
I have strongly opposed development of our Green Belt land. I have objected to inappropriate planning applications on behalf of my constituents. I am opposing plans for Port Warrington because I do not believe this plan will benefit our people and town. I represented the views of my constituents in response to the Council’s Preferred Development Option.
Warrington Borough Council is now consulting on its Draft Local Plan, the Council’s proposed blueprint for Warrington’s development for the next 20 years which covers housing, business space, transport infrastructure and community facilities.
Given the scale of the Plan, understandably there are strong views on this issue.
I appreciate the challenges that the Council face in producing a Local Plan. The Government has placed a statutory duty on local authorities to produce a ‘Local Plan’ to identify land for future housing and economic growth. If the Council fails to produce a Plan which meets Government approval it will be thrown out. This would mean that the Council loses control of the planning process, leaving our open spaces at the mercy of developers free to cherry pick our green spaces for new housing and commercial build.
A growing number of people want to live, work and run businesses in Warrington and that is good news. It is right that we meet those needs and that we act to ensure our local economy prospers. However, due to past and projected growth across the town, my constituents have very valid concerns about the big changes proposed in the Draft Local Plan and how they may transform the landscape of the town.
The final plan must respond to the needs and the wishes of our residents. It must deliver good quality jobs and high-quality housing, which includes social housing and homes for first time buyers. And of course, a good standard of living for all.
During my time as the local MP, the greatest concerns raised with me by my constituents have been about the need for better road infrastructure and action to tackle the intolerable problems we have with traffic congestion. As it stands, our roads are not fit for purpose and the problems we have with congestion are only set to get worse. We need real and workable solutions to these problems.
The publication of the Draft Local Plan follows the Council’s 2017 consultation on its Preferred Development Option (PDO) which looked at Warrington’s development needs for the future. In response to the PDO consultation, I provided a detailed response to the proposals on behalf of my constituents and worked hard to ensure that everyone who wanted to comment was given the opportunity to do so.
I called on then Council Leader Councillor Terry O’Neill to extend the consultation period and arranged for an additional consultation event to be organised. I attended this event and fed back the comments I received as part of the consultation process.
In response to the PDO, I criticised proposals to remove land from the Green Belt for development and called for the land to be protected. I made it clear that I wanted to see a brownfield first approach taken to development in the town. In response to those concerns, and concerns from many Warrington South residents, the Council has reduced the amount of Green Belt that could be released for development.
However, my view on this issue remains unchanged. I believe that development of our local Green Belt land is the wrong approach to take to meet development targets set out by the Government. Green Belt land should only be developed in the most exceptional of circumstances and it must be protected from development wherever possible.
I have and continue to take positive action to help ensure a brownfield first approach to development in our town. I have backed infrastructure proposals that will improve access and help to reduce congestion in and around the town centre. I am also supporting a number of funding bids to rejuvenate the town centre, helping to strengthen its future viability.
I have also made it clear that it is crucial a recycling provision in the south of the town is included in the Local Plan. Following my discussions with Professor Steven Broomhead and Councillors Russ Bowden, Terry O’Neill and Judith Guthrie, I am delighted that the provision of a community recycling centre in the south of the town will be enshrined in the Local Plan.
In the interim, concerns have been raised with me about the closure of the current Stockton Heath facility and the impact that the loss of the Centre could have on the local area. Although the Stockton Heath site is the smallest of Warrington’s three recycling centres, it is considered by many to be the busiest. Residents from Stockton Heath, Appleton, Grappenhall, Thelwall, Walton, Stretton, Hatton and Lymm use the Centre.
Throughout my discussions with the Council on this issue, I made it clear that whilst I welcome the Council’s commitment to deliver a new recycling centre in the south of the town, there should be no gap in provision for residents. The Stockton Heath site is well-used and therefore I believe it must remain in operation for as long as possible to ensure that communities in the south of the town do not experience any disruption to their recycling services. Following my intervention, plans to close the Stockton Heath site were halted. Discussions on the future of the site are ongoing.
I have several concerns which I intend to raise as part of the consultation process. These include:
• Serious concerns about the loss of Green Belt land for development.
• Warrington Western Link and Port Warrington.
• The need for improvements to local infrastructure to meet current and future needs.
On 25 March, Warrington Borough Councillors will vote on whether to approve the Draft Local Plan for public consultation. If approved, the public consultation is due to start in April.
I will be providing a comprehensive response to the Draft Local Plan consultation on behalf of my constituents in due course. And as with the consultation on the Preferred Development Option, I will be working to ensure that the views of my constituents are fully represented. I believe it is essential that local people are given the maximum opportunity to have their say on the future of where they live, work and run businesses.
Ultimately, the final Plan must reflect what local people want and need: it must be driven by local communities and not imposed on them.
I encourage all residents to have their say on this issue.