Public inquiry into plan for Ryder Cup hosting golf course and more than 1,000 homes on Bolton green belt park

The proposals also include building more than 1,000 homes but have run into considerable opposition from residents and local politicians.

A public inquiry into a vast development scheme which includes building a Ryder Cup golf course and more than 1,000 homes on a green belt park in Greater Manchester has been held.

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 refused a revised plan submitted by landowner Peel, which contained what they claim ‘enhanced proposals’.

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

What happened at the public inquiry?

During the opening session of the inquiry, planning inspector, Dominic Young, who is overseeing the appeal, threatened to halt proceedings after members of the public shouted out during evidence being presented by Russell Harris KC, the barrister presenting Peel’s case.

The plans which would see 1,036 homes, a hotel and what Peel describe as ‘a hub of inclusive golf’ for the UK, have been the subject of much opposition, with hundreds of nearby residents, park users and many councillors, including leader of the council Martyn Cox saying the development would be inappropriate and harmful to the area.

Hulton Park in Bolton

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

What was said for and against the plans at the inquiry?

In his opening statement, Mr Harris, for Peel, said: “This case is important. It’s important to Bolton, to the Greater Manchester area, to England.

“It gives rise to the potential for this area to be at the centre of much of the developed world’s attention and for the economic benefits of the proposal to be felt across a generation.

“The principle of the development and very much of the detail has already been considered and agreed. The secretary of state found in his words that ‘the enormity of the benefits associated with the project clearly outweigh the harm which inevitably flow from the development on green belt and a registered park and garden’.

The plans for a Ryder Cup golf course were scrutinised at a public inquiry. Photo: Peel L&P

Speaking against the appeal, Hulton councilllor Toby Hewitt, said: “Squeezing a new settlement in West Hulton, between Over Hulton, Westhoughton and Atherton joins up those conurbations. It risks reducing the separation and identity of those communities and leads to extensive urban sprawl.”

Westhoughton councillor Andrea Finney, said: “The residents in my ward want me to speak on their behalf and say that over the years we’ve seen Westhoughton grow with many housing developments popping up. Our town is bursting at the seams with new housing being squashed into what little green space is left.”

She added that with an average of two cars per household the plans would mean another 2,072 cars on Westhoughton’s roads adding to already serious congestion on Park Road and around Chequerbent roundabout.

Peel said the project would be a ‘game-changer’ for Bolton and Greater Manchester, delivering around £250m of private sector investment, creating more than 1,000 jobs and boosting tourism.

What arguments have been made for and against the scheme?

The plans are underpinned by bringing The Ryder Cup and would be complemented by regular golf, community and other events.

Hulton Park remains one of only two English venues shortlisted by UK Sport and Ryder Cup Europe for an English bid for the 2031 Ryder Cup.

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 their revised plans provide greater community benefits and additional transport infrastructure and reduce the level of housebuilding within the green belt.

They claim 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 they also had the support of The University of Bolton and Bolton College, GreaterSport, CBI North West, the Greater Manchester Chamber, Marketing Manchester, and Bolton Wanderers FC.

The inquiry was held over two days and the inspector will make a decision after considering all the evidence.