Northern Roots: plan for eco park and urban farm in Oldham will go to the government after councillors back it

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Local politicians have given the green light for the ambitious project but the government will have time to decide if it wants to call the proposals in.

Proposals to create the UK’s biggest urban farm and eco park in Oldham will be referred to the government after local bosses gave them the green light.

Councillors have unanimously approved the first major phase of the Northern Roots project, which focuses on the top half of the 160-acre site in Snipe Clough. It will include a visitor centre, with spaces for events and meetings and a café and shop, a natural amphitheatre and performance space as well as a learning centre, forestry depot and solar panels.

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The application will now have to be referred to the Secretary of State, who will have 21 days to decide whether or not to call it in for further examination.

What are the Northern Roots plans and what did planning officers say about them?

The whole site runs from the Grade Two listed Alexandra Park, past Park Bridge and down to Daisy Nook Country Park. The plans include outline proposals for a natural swimming pond and a community growing allotment. Produce from the proposed market garden would be sold in the shop and the cafe in the visitor centre. A massive 880 solar panels will be used to provide electricity for the buildings across the Northern Roots site.

Planning officer Graham Dickman said there were several ‘main issues’ with the development, firstly that the site was located in the green belt.

Secondly, he told councillors, there had been an objection from Sport England. The sporting body said it did not consider that there was adequate replacement for existing playing fields within the site. Two existing football pitches on the site were due to be retained and upgraded, while two are planned to be relocated onto a new plot in the north east.

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Mr Dickman added: “To bring the scheme forward it is not possible for the replacement playing fields to be created in advance of the loss of part of this area of the site.”

An image of the proposed visitor centre at Northern Roots. Photo: JDDK ArchitectsAn image of the proposed visitor centre at Northern Roots. Photo: JDDK Architects
An image of the proposed visitor centre at Northern Roots. Photo: JDDK Architects | JDDK Architects

He added playing fields in the south of the site near the growing hub were due to be retained until the new fields came forward.

But there would be a ‘temporary’ period where there was an loss of playing fields on the Snipe Clough site.

“However we have to look at this in the context of sport and recreation. And Sport England have made quite clear that their remit is about playing fields. They do however say we recognise there will be recreational opportunities,” Mr Dickman said.

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“Part of the growing hub is a recreational facility. It’s about training and learning and teaching people about how to grow food.”

He added the situation was ‘not ideal’ but there would be an ‘overall benefit’ of allowing the development to go ahead which would ‘override any harm’ in terms of the playing field provision.

What other objections have there been?

The third element of concerns was around the creation of a 22-space car park on part of an existing area of open space off Nether Hey Street, which had led to seven public objections.

Objector Ann Ganderton spoke specifically against the car park plans at the meeting. She said: “Having lived on Nether Hey for almost 50 years I can say without a doubt that the field in question is a great community resource. The field is well used by young people playing football and cricket, dog walkers, families enjoying picnics and people taking a walk.

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“This is a free open space where family outdoor activities can take place. Why replace this space with a car park which will severely limit its use?

“There are concerns that should a car park be built it would become a convenient area for fly-tipping, already a significant problem in the area.

“It is also felt that a car park would provide a convenient meeting place for drug-dealing and anti-social behaviour.”

Wendy Moorhouse, the council’s highways officer said she was ‘confident’ that people would be able to use the car park safely.

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“It’s serving the purpose of reducing congestion on the surrounding highway network,” she added.

The Northern Roots site. Photo: Northern RootsThe Northern Roots site. Photo: Northern Roots
The Northern Roots site. Photo: Northern Roots | Northern Roots

Mr Dickman said that if the car park was not provided people would still look to park around Nether Hey Street to access the playing fields, potentially causing more congestion.

Councillor Jenny Harrison also spoke against the car parking proposals within the application. She said that while ‘on the whole’ they were supportive of the Northern Roots development as a ‘fantastic asset’ for Oldham, they wanted the committee to ‘hold back’ on the car park element.

“It’s close to the Northern Roots and everything else but it’s the only green space in that particular area and very built up space of Alexandra Ward,” Coun Harrison said.

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Fellow ward councillor Coun Shaid Mushtaq added: “It is going to have a significant aesthetic impact on that area. The benefit of this is when you’ve got young children and other responsibilities it’s much easier to have them playing locally and keeping an eye on them and it is heavily used. Are we honestly saying we can’t find an alternative to this?”

What was said in favour of the project?

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Ian Ford told members that the Northern Roots project would encompass ‘growing, learning and leisure opportunities’.

“The proposals take an under utilised asset and enhance its biodiversity and ecological value of the site while creating opportunities to address the economic health and wellbeing challenges of the area,” he said.

“It has been acknowledged that some of the proposals represent inappropriate development within the green belt but the abundance of social, economic and environmental benefits that have been set out in the application collectively outweigh the limited harm to the green belt.”

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Addressing Sport England’s objection he said: “Most of the playing fields have not been formally used in over five years, some now 10 years. Other recreational uses, which includes allotments are permitted on existing playing fields. The loss is outweighed by the wide ranging benefits that part of the proposals bring. But two new playing fields will be provided to balance out this loss.

“Overall there will be no net loss of playing pitches and existing provision will be improved.”

Mr Ford said that following meetings between the applicant, residents of Nether Hey Street and local councillors, they had put forward improved security measures to mitigate concerns.

“Despite these small numbers of objections the engagement with the general public and local stakeholders has been very positive,” he added.

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“We request you consider this unique and exciting proposal positively and award planning permission.”

Chair of the committee Coun Peter Dean moved they approve the application, but urged conversations to continue over potential alternative parking sites to the green space off Nether Hey Street. The plans were approved unanimously.

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