'This is a battle for the English countryside': Long-serving MP condemns Cuerdale Garden Village plan for 1,300 homes on South Ribble greenbelt
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Nigel Evans said he had been left moved by the testimony of tenant farmers who face losing their livelihoods if the Cuerdale Garden Village gets the go-ahead.
He was speaking to the Lancashire Post after attending a public meeting about the proposed scheme, which would also provide business and commercial space - as well as a new primary school - on a sprawling site to the east of the M6 in Samlesbury.
The proposed plot sits just within Mr. Evans’ Ribble Valley constituency and he has vowed to ask the government to step in and have the final say if the blueprint - brought forward by North West-based Story Homes - is ultimately given the go-ahead by South Ribble Borough Council when its planning committee considers the matter later this year.
He also told the Post that the plans exposed the need to defend the “principle of greenbelt preservation” far beyond the borders of any one borough.
“This is not just about South Ribble - this is about England.
“We are fighting battles, not just for the current farmers and the people currently who live in and around that area, [but] for future generations - that they will have this beautiful countryside intact.
“A young girl [who spoke at the meeting] was very moving - and she is the future of farming. But there is no future for farming if we don't have farming land.
“This is greenbelt land - there's plenty of other land available without destroying our countryside.
“And once you start encroaching there, then there are other green fields that will be lost as well - you’ll have lost the argument for the preservation of greenbelt land around that area.
“I’m standing 1,000 percent with the residents - and should the local authority pass this in any way, shape or form, I will ask for the Secretary of State to call it in,” added Mr. Evans, who has represented Ribble Valley in Parliament for the past 30 years.
Greenbelt is usually deemed unsuitable for all but the most small-scale of development - unless an applicant can demonstrate “very special circumstances” as to why their plans should be permitted.
Story Homes’ planning application acknowledges that most of the proposed site of the garden village - which the firm says would support 3,100 jobs and give a £277m boost to the local economy - is currently agricultural land, encompassing Walmsley Fold Farm and Court Lodge Farm.
However, Samlesbury and Cuerdale Parish Council chair Graham Young - himself a farmer in the area - says he cannot fathom how the company can also claim on its application form that there are no “existing employees” on the plot.
“I’m standing here now looking across one of my fields - and if you [asked] how many people are directly employed on that field today, then there are none. It’s just growing grass for the next crop of silage.
“But there is the mowing of it, the mole-catching, hedge cutting, re-seeding [and] ploughing - all done at different stages of the year [when] that field would be like a hive of enterprise,” Cllr Young said.
He added that Samlesbury was blessed with perfect soils and rainfall levels for growing the crops that feed farm animals in winter - meaning that the food miles and carbon footprint of the produce emanating from the parish were “next to nothing”, with much of the fayre being processed and sold within the North West.
More than 200 people attended the public meeting about the garden village proposals last Friday. Back in April, 98 percent of voters in a parish referendum on the issue said that they were opposed to the idea, on a 49 percent turnout.
A spokesperson for Story Homes said that the developer was keen to listen to local concerns about its plans.
“The site for Cuerdale Garden Village has been chosen because of the uniquely sustainable location for strategic growth aligned to the £4.5billion Government investment into the National Cyber Force [centre].
Such investment will generate demand for a significant number of jobs and provide an economic boost to the local area. This will create a significant need for new homes and quality employment space, with Story Homes’ proposals responding to this need.
“We recognise that there is significant public interest in the plans and have undertaken extensive consultation with the community to understand the views of local people.
“We remain committed to engaging with those interested in the proposals following the submission of the application and would welcome the opportunity to work with those with concerns, such as the parish council, stakeholder groups and Nigel Evans MP to discuss the proposals further.”