Planning permission has been granted for 214 new homes on the site around Crimble Mill in Heywood.
Approval was granted on Thursday (24 August) at Rochdale Borough Council’s planning committee for 181 houses on the land around and near to the mill, plus 33 in the mill itself.
Plans submitted last year say the upper floors of the Grade-II* listed Crimble Mill would be converted into 33 flats, while the lower levels could be used for purposes ranging from shops, restaurants and museums to gyms, offices and exhibitions.
The 33 flats within the mill building would be mainly two-bedroom, although there will be six one-beds and a trio of three-beds.
Properties adjacent to the mill and on land on the opposite side of the Roch would all be houses – 120 will have three bedrooms and 61 boast four bedrooms or more.
These are proposed to be market housing, with the developer arguing it is not financially viable to provide affordable homes without further development – which the site does not have space for.
Cars would enter the site from Heywood, south of the site via either Woodland Road or Crimble Lane. There would be 514 parking spaces, with nine disabled bays and room for 12 bikes.
The scheme also includes plans for 31 new homes in three ‘blocks’ on land around the mill on a ‘similar footprint’ to that of the existing buildings.
However, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said it was plans for an ‘enabling development’ of 150 homes on the opposite side of the River Roch which has proven highly controversial since first appearing in the region’s joint development plan – now dubbed ‘Places for Everyone’.
Greenbelt campaigners previously demanded the whole 55-acre site be removed from the plan on the grounds it is too vulnerable to flooding, as well as objecting to the loss of the fields.
Neighbours raised issues about the southern element of the plan, which is on green belt land. Dozens gathered at the planning meeting to make their voices heard.
Councillor Billy Sheerin said selling houses at the site could help fund the restoration of the mill. Councillor Angela Smith said she believed losing green belt land was too big a price to pay.
Iain Brown, speaking on behalf of objectors, spoke about traffic on Crimble Lane; potential flooding; and concerns around building on old mine shafts. The committee was assured by planning officers the development was safe.
Councillor Phil Burke said it was ‘a big bonus to bring the mill back to life’.
The application was approved by a vote of eight to three.
Before construction can start, the Secretary of State will need to approve proposals as they form part of the Places for Everyone plan, which sets out where 165,000 new homes will be built across Greater Manchester by 2037.
Dating back to 1825, the five-storey building is a rare example of a textile mill that illustrates the transition from water to steam power. It is likely to be the last large-scale water-powered rural mill to survive in Greater Manchester.
Heywood and Middleton MP Chris Clarkson has expressed his disappointment that planning was granted after writing to the panel with his concerns.
He said: “A great many residents contacted me about these plans, setting out concerns about the suitability of the site, lack of infrastructure and loss of amenity.
“Whilst most of us would love to see the mill itself restored and used positively, the plans for so many houses of the wrong type in the wrong place seemed excessive and so I wrote to the panel with my concerns, objecting to the plan.
“I was very disappointed to see that the concerns of local residents and representatives were ignored and the plan was approved.
“I’ll be writing to the Secretary of State to highlight my very serious concerns about how the application was handled.”
In his letter to the planning committee, Mr Clarkson said he was “not convinced the dwellings were appropriate for the site” saying the council’s building of “large higher value family homes as a ‘strategic priority’” was not based on a need for four- and five-bedroom homes in the area but rather “the council’s desire to boost its council tax base.”
He went on to outline reasons why the site was “unsuitable for further development”, noting the developer suggested addressing some of these before saying the proposals were “somewhat vague and optimistically presented.”
He said: “There is a reference to a terrace providing a flood escape, although there is no substantive detail as to how this will work, there is also no assessment of how existing properties in the area will be impacted.
“Flooding is already an issue in the area, the loss of drainage provided by the undeveloped area around the mill can only serve to exacerbate this problem.
“There appears to be no consideration given to the possible difficulty new homeowners would have in insuring their property given the history of flooding in the area. Site access is also a serious concern.
“Even with the proposed upgrades to the existing access points, this does not mitigate the existing difficulties on Crimble Lane and Woodland Road which suffer from traffic complications already – the addition of circa 400 vehicles (assuming approximately 2 cars per dwelling) would have significant impact in terms of congestion, noise and air pollution for both new and existing residents.
“I also note that the Environment Agency has a standing objection and is reviewing a response from the developer – at the very least this process of review should be allowed to conclude before a decision is made. I also have concerns about the commercial viability of the project and the potential impact on s106 contributions.
“Whilst I note that some provision has been made for education and off site infrastructure, this is predicated on the site being completed without unforeseen cost over-runs which seem almost inevitable given the nature of the site.
“I have heard concerns from local residents that the redevelopment of the mill will be subject to the development of the new houses and may not go ahead if the developer decides the new developments are not as lucrative as initially stated.
“Members of the panel will be well aware of developers using commercial viability as a reason to renege on their s106 commitments on even seemingly straight-forward sites.
“The addition of 214 new households and the hundreds of people therein will place significant pressure on existing infrastructure and there appears to be no plan to address the lack of essential facilities in the area, even assuming that the full hypothecated amount is obtained from the developer.”
The Conservative MP also added he was “very concerned” to learn that one of the directors of the proposed developer is “a close family relation of a member of the panel,” saying: “As a matter of due diligence, this should have been publicly declared to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, whether the member intends to vote or not and should be a material consideration.
“There should be no suggestion that a decision is being made by the authority which could even indirectly enrich someone who is in a position of influence.”
Mr Clarkson concluded: “The points set out represent the concerns of a large number of local residents who have been in touch with me to express their apprehensions about the proposed development.
“Whilst I see merit in restoring the mill and protecting an important piece of local heritage, I would politely suggest that this part of the project is considered separately from any new development and that any further development in the area be contingent on the successful restoration and completion of the mill.”
Responding to Mr Clarkson’s letter and allegations, a spokesperson for Rochdale Borough Council said: “MPs are entitled to make representations in planning matters and Mr Clarkson’s letter was considered by the council’s planning committee.
“We do not believe there was any impropriety in the way that the application was considered. There were representations both for and against the application and these were considered carefully by the committee.
“The government has set the council a target of building 616 housing units per year, which means that all planning applications need to be considered on their merits. The derelict mill has been a source of complaints from local residents for a number of years and this development will preserve the building and bring it back into use.
“The building has been designated ‘at risk’ by English Heritage, which means the council has a responsibility to help preserve it. However, aside from funding the restoration through a share of the profits from the sale of the new housing, there is no other realistic way of doing this.
“The number of new homes being built at the site is the minimum required to achieve this and the planning requirements state that the restoration of the mill will be prioritised during the early stages of the building project.
“Flooding and access issues have been explored in detail over a number of years. Extensive works have been undertaken in coordination with the Environment Agency on potential bridge and culvert designs which provide engineered solutions to minimising flood risk. Extensive work to improve access to the area will also be carried out.”
Additional reporting: Nick Statham and George Lythgoe, Local Democracy Reporting Service
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