Controversial plans to replace a Merseyside garden centre with 227 houses have been approved after a lengthy debate.
Knowsley Council’s planning committee gave the development at Prescot’s Whitakers Garden Centre the go-ahead last night after a debate lasting more than 90 minutes.
But opposition councillors accused the committee’s Labour majority of siding with wealthy developers against their residents.
Prescot North councillor Carl Cashman, a Lib Dem, pointed to the absence of affordable housing at the planned development despite council policies saying 25% of the homes should be classed as affordable.
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Cllr Cashman said: “Members of this committee are very passionate about local working class people being able to own their own homes but the council seems to be allowing fat cat developers to undercut this requirement.”
He added that this was despite the developer, Taylor Wimpey, expecting to make a £10m profit from the houses. However, council planning officers said Taylor Wimpey’s claim that the project would not be financially viable if it included affordable homes had been independently verified.
The committee also heard from members of the public who raised concerns about traffic congestion, air pollution and the possibility that dangerous chemicals left over from the site’s previous use as a plant nursery would still be present in the soil.
John Sills, a Prescot resident, said a statement by planning officers that there would be no impact on congestion or air pollution was “puzzling”.
He said: “My concern is if you have got 227 houses on the site, then 227 houses might equal over 400 cars, and if all these 400 cars want to exit the site at traditional leaving times such as taking children to school there’s going to be an awful lot of cars.
“My concern is the congestion and pollution and frustration that might build up because of the single exit.”
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Mike Gittens, who works at Whitakers, added his objections, saying the development threatened a number of bird and butterfly species present on the site.
More than 200 people had objected to Taylor Wimpey’s proposals, with another 108 signing a petition against the plans. However, planning officers deemed the plans acceptable and recommended approval by the committee.
Cllr Graham Morgan, the leader of the council, was keen to stress the benefits of the scheme including £650,000 in contributions from Taylor Wimpey towards local parks and infrastructure.
He said: “Maybe we could look at the positive side – half a million pounds to the improvement of Browns Field.
“Also, if you look, £30,000 for cycle connection improvements round the site, £20,000 for off site tree planting, £18,000 for improvement of the Prescot Medical Centre. A lot of work in the background with our officers has gone on with the developer to achieve that, so well done.”
He also warned that because planning officers had recommended approving the scheme, the council faced the possibility of having to pay Taylor Wimpey’s costs if it refused planning permission only to be defeated on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.
However, the committee has previously gone against planning officers’ recommendations, most recently in the case of a 5G mast in Kirkby town centre where councillors refused permission despite officers’ warnings that they would be defeated on appeal.
All 13 Labour members of the committee voted to approve Taylor Wimpey’s plans for the Whitakers site, with only Lib Dem councillor Ian Smith and Green councillor Ron Gaffney voting against.
After the meeting, Knowsley’s Green group leader Cllr Kai Taylor echoed Cllr Cashman’s comments on the development’s lack of affordable housing.
He said: “Whilst thousands of our residents are desperately in need of affordable social housing, this Labour council continue to cosy up to multi-million-pound development companies, totally neglecting the wishes and views of their own residents.
“I’d encourage residents in Knowsley to remember this when Labour councillors are trying to convince voters that they do care about our local green spaces at the next set of council elections.”
Work is expected to start on the site next year, with the garden centre moving to a new, smaller location in Manchester Road provided planning permission is granted.