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Letter to the editor: What is the Green Belt and why should it be defended?

By Dr. N. Cox

It has been repeatedly stated by members of OMBC that, contrary to the arguments of those who have opposed the relocation of the school, the proposed development adjacent to Huddersfield Road, will not be on Green Belt land.  In recent comments Amanda Chadderton, cabinet member for Education, Employment and Skills states:

I… want to make it clear again that, despite repeated and misleading claims to the contrary, there is no truth in the suggestion that we’re building a school on Green Belt land.

The Diggle site is designated for industrial use. Green Belt land would only be used in this scheme for sports facilities and ancillary buildings, which does not alter its current status at all.

(Quoted on Saddleworth News, 16 January 2014)

Just how ‘misleading’ are these claims though?  Ms Chadderton states that there is ‘no truth’ in the assertion that the school is to be built on the Green belt; but this depends on what is meant by ‘a school’ and what is meant by ‘building’.  No one has contested that the plans indicate that the main school buildings will be constructed on land to the front of the former Shaw’s Pallet Works site.  This land is not in the Green Belt, it is greenfield land and has been designated for some time as suitable for industrial use should the Shaw’s site expand to provide more opportunities for employment. There is an argument that this land should not be used for building, but this is a debate separate from that concerning the Green Belt.  However, as Ms Chadderton’s remarks acknowledge, in addition to the main buildings on this land, the current plan for the site proposes ‘ancillary buildings’ – most significantly a two-storey sports hall.  This building is sited on land which is in the Green Belt.  What is this, then, if it is not building part of the school on Green Belt land?  National planning regulations do allow for the construction of some buildings associated with recreational use on Green Belt land, but these are usually of the order of village cricket pavilions, grounds-man’s huts or sheds to store a mower.  Look carefully at the plans for the proposed new school and the scale of the sport’s hall envisaged is striking.  There is no doubt that this will be a large building, certainly dominating the view to the East of Huddersfield Road, from where it will entirely obscure the current prospect of Running Hill and Broadstones Moor.

It is therefore not the case that there will be no school buildings on Green Belt land if the proposed school is built.  However, we should also consider the ‘sports facilities’ mentioned by the Cabinet member.  Currently, the area to be taken for these is a collection of fields sloping steeply towards the Diggle Brook and acting, in places, as its flood-plain.  Diggle youths attempting to play football on this land in the mid-twentieth century, I’ve been told by a local, gave up because they sank into the ground and the ball ran repeatedly into the Brook.  The land will therefore have to be drained and levelled: bulldozed, to put it more bluntly.  The banks of the Brook will have to be prevented from flooding by artificially raising them, a procedure – incidentally – which will increase the flood-risk down-stream at Brownhill and in Uppermill.  These are significant engineering works which will utterly transform the topography and character of the valley.  OMBC has given an undertaking to Sport England that it will continue to provide an ‘astro pitch facility’ in Saddleworth, after it has given up the current school site in Uppermill to ‘A Local Developer’. One, at least, therefore, of the pitches shown on the plans will be an artificial surface.   No doubt pathways will need to be constructed to and from the ‘sporting facilities’ using concrete, asphalt or other hard surfaces.  If the sports pitches are to be used after school this will mean flood-lighting, which will light up the valley and transform its night-time atmosphere of relative remoteness.

If all of that were not enough, just before Christmas some residents at the upper end of Huddersfield Road received notice that OMBC intended to alleviate the inevitable problems to be generated by the huge increase in traffic into the village if the school were built.  Their proposal was to place double-yellow lines down both sides of the road and to provide parking, for residents who would be affected, at the rear of their properties in the fields that form part of the Green Belt.  The residents were informed that, for this generous provision, they would – of course – be required to make a financial contribution.  Astonishing as it sounds, residents were, then, being asked to collude in, in fact to help pay for, the conversion of part of the Green Belt into a car park.  Not surprisingly it’s my understanding that they the majority have refused to participate in this ill-considered scheme, but OMBC clearly had no qualms about building (that word again) a car park on Green Belt land.

The crass destruction of the contours of a valley which has not been significantly altered for centuries; the bull-dozing of flood-plain grazing marsh which is currently a nesting site for important upland wader species; the imposition of hard surfaces, astro turf, flood-lighting; the creation of a car park; the erection of a twelve-metre wire fence; not to mention, of course, the building of a school sport’s hall – all on the Green Belt.   It is these separate acts which together constitute a pre-meditated act of vandalism, which the Council would like us to overlook, that have angered those of us who have stated that not only will parts of the school be built on the Green Belt but, more than that, the measures proposed will violate the very basis on which the concept of Green Belt is founded.

Generally ascribed to the early-twentieth-century social reformer and town planner Ebenezer Howard, who developed the concept of the ‘garden city’, the green belt was envisaged as a means of preventing what many in late Victorian England saw as the erosion of the separation between urban and rural landscapes and the sprawl of cities into the countryside.  The very rationale for the creation of green belts, as enshrined in the first Green Belt Act of 1938, was to prevent the homogenisation of the English landscape, the gradual destruction of distinctive local variations between places.  The proposed development of the Green Belt at Diggle will not only destroy the unique, rural character of the Diggle Valley it will also erode the distinctive identity of Diggle as a village.  In place of the open, green space which currently acts as a border separating the village from neighbouring built-up areas there will be a huddle of unprepossessing buildings surrounded, where the Green Belt once was, with a suburban clutter of ‘ancillary buildings’, artificial surfaces, fences, flood-lighting and a car park.  Saddleworth may be part of Oldham Metropolitan Borough but that should not mean that its distinctiveness as a locality is lost and only by defending the Green Belt against suburbanisation can the individuality of its villages and their rural setting be secured.

Readers wishing to find out more about the Green Belt and efforts to protect it may find the joint Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and Natural England report Green Belts: A Greener Future of interest, a summary is available at:

http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/housing-and-planning/green-belts/item/1955-green-belts-a-greener-future-summary

The views and comments expressed in letters to the editor and in comments on posts do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the editor. Letters may be edited.

2 comments to Letter to the editor: What is the Green Belt and why should it be defended?

  • Ann

    I think Oldham council must qualify as one of the worst & most incompetent councils when it comes to town planning. I’m utterly aghast at what they are proposing here, I cannot get over the lack of insight. It seems to me they only think of short-term gain and not the long-term future and protection of what is great about Saddleworth.

  • MIck Ashworth

    A brilliant exposition of the problem. This needs to be publicised more widely, Stuart. OMBC are conning everybody. When this scheme was first mooted years ago everybody thought the plans involved refurbishment of the pallet works and incorporation of the iconic Victorian office building, NOT a Mossley Hollins-style monstrosity in front and to the right of it, with sprawling development over the fields and floodplains. Check out MH at night, lit up like a Christmas tree most nights, if you want to see what Diggle might look like in the future!

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