Planning inspector finds in favour of controversial plans for golf resort in Bolton which could host Ryder Cup

The huge development project went to a public inquiry after councillors in Bolton refused a revised plan for the golf course and more than 1,000 homes.

A planning inspector has approved plans for a Ryder Cup golf course and 1,036 homes on at a country park in Bolton. A public inquiry was held earlier this month into the vast development scheme which also includes a hotel and what developer Peel L&P describes as ‘a hub of inclusive golf’ for the UK.

Previous proposals for Hulton Park, close to Westhoughton, were approved by Bolton Council in 2018 and the UK Secretary of State in 2020 and remain in place. However, in February, going against the advice of their own planning officers, the council’s planning committee unanimously refused a revised plan submitted by landowner Peel, which contained what they claim ‘enhanced proposals’.

Now, though, the planning inspector has found in favour of the developer and against the elected representatives.

What did the planning officer say when giving his verdict?

In a decision published on Tuesday (25 October), planning inspector Dominic Young said: “The appeal is allowed and full planning permission is granted for restoration works to Hulton Park and various existing structures and heritage assets within it, including demolition of various existing buildings and structures; the development of a golf resort, including an 18-hole championship-grade golf course, clubhouse, golf academy, comprising driving range, practice course, adventure golf course and academy building with sports and learning facilities, a golf shop and cafe.”

The inspector also granted outline planning permission for up to 1,036 dwellings, a village centre, village hall, community allotments, primaryschool, short stay holiday accommodation, cabins and lodges and a range of other retail, leisure, recreation, community and food drink-related uses, highways infrastructure and the regrading of land to accommodate the golf course.

Hulton Park would be built to host the Ryder Cup. Credit: Peel L&P

The scheme will only go ahead if the venue was selected to host a Ryder Cup, with Peel saying that the event alone would bring in around a billion pounds of economic benefit to Bolton and the wider Greater Manchester region.

The proposed course is on a two-venue short-list created by UK Sport and Ryder Cup Europe for England hosting the event, with a bid likely to be made for the 2031 event. More than 250,000 people attended the previous event in Paris and the contest between the USA and Europe has always drawn international attention.

At the two-day public inquiry held at the Holiday Inn in Bolton, Bolton Council offered no defence on the refusal of the revised plans after they sought legal advice on the matter.

What did opponents of the scheme say and why has the planning inspector found against them?

Opponents of the scheme cite environmental concerns about losing so much green belt, harm to biodiversity and wildlife, the spread of urban sprawl and the effect on already congested roads around the Westhoughton area.

Peel said its revised plans provide greater community benefits and additional transport infrastructure and reduce the level of housebuilding within the green belt. Peel claims Hulton Park would be restored and opened up for community access for the first time in its 700-year history, delivering 15km of new and improved public walking and cycling trails.

Peel said it also had the support of the University of Bolton and Bolton College, Greater Sport, CBI North West, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Marketing Manchester, and Bolton Wanderers FC.

The development at Hulton Park has been approved by a planning inspector. Credit: Peel L&P

Mr Young added: “The monetised benefits of bringing the Ryder Cup to Hulton Park would be substantial. Added to this, the delivery of new homes and jobs in an area of need, affordable housing, community facilities and a significantly improved package of walking routes across the site are weighty social and community benefits.

“Collectively the socio-economic benefits attract very substantial weight. I consider that the benefits are of such magnitude that they clearly outweigh the identified green belt harms. On a further matter of judgement, I conclude that very special circumstances exist, which justify permitting the proposed development in the green belt.”

What has the reaction to the verdict been?

Welcoming the inspector’s decision Richard Knight, director of planning and strategy at Peel L&P, said: “We put forward a robust and compelling case at the public inquiry and are pleased that the inspector has recognised the long-term benefits a revitalised Hulton Park will bring to the economy of Bolton and the North West.

“This demonstrates that our plans in the best interests of Bolton and local people and now is the time for Bolton to get behind the bid and support thedevelopment coming to the town to help secure a prosperous and exciting future for Bolton. We will continue to promote the unique offer Bolton and Hulton Park provides and looks forward to the continued support it has had to date.”