Our beautiful valley will be concreted over and we feel powerless to stop it

Campaigners fear the future of a beautiful corner of the Rossendale Valley has been left in the 'hands of just a few people' - as diggers roll in to 'concrete it over'.

In late 2021, Rossendale Council granted permission to Taylor Wimpey to build 130 new homes on land known as Holden Vale, south of Grane Road in Helmshore, between Rossendale and Blackburn.

Grane Residents Association (GRASS) has campaigned to protect the site for years. It says it is important for people, wildlife and preventing floods to rivers and communities downstream. It suggests brownfield sites should be developed elsewhere and is monitoring early preparations before any homes are built.

When Rossendale Council planners gave the green light to Taylor Wimpey nearly three years ago, GRASS member Margaret Murray says Helmshore residents were given assurances that robust pre-build conditions had been included in the planning conditions.

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These were intended to protect the environment and wildlife in the area.

But now campaigners are concerned just three people at Rossendale Borough Council have been delegated the role of approving changes to some of these pre-build conditions. These alterations, Ms Murray fears, can be changed "without even so much as a phone call to our three elected Helmshore Councillors or local residents groups".

She said: "At this late stage, the situation is looking like a fait accompli. Reflecting back 30 years-plus, when development of the land was proposed by the Labour council, we mobilised support from residents living in Grane but also from the wider community through the valley in an attempt to overturn the proposal.

"It took a number of years to bring a change to this proposal which the whole council was party to and was endorsed by a government inspector. There was one fundamental difference in the way Rossendale Council operated. Our communication was targeted at all councillors as, collectively, they made decisions on behalf of all residents in the valley.

"From the start of our current campaign in relation to Taylor Wimpey’s proposal, GRASS was directly approached by Taylor Wimpey, not the council, with the aim of persuading local residents about this site."

She says decisions that will affect thousands of residents in Helmshore now lie in the hands of a "small number" of people. And she fears traffic issues on "already struggling" roads will see their consequences felt across the Valley.

Other concerns about the approved Taylor Wimpey development include pressure on local schools, doctors, and dentists - as well as destruction of the peat wetland which "acts as a buffer to any flood water running off from the Haslingden Grane moors".

She added "As with our previous campaign, we consistently communicated with all councillors to keep them abreast of developments, until the point when we were reminded by certain councillors that Helmshore was not their patch and therefore nothing to do with them. They would be treading on other councillors’ territory if they expressed opinions."

Mrs Murray alleged: "The root of the problem is a lack of democracy in Rossendale Council. Councillors are given roles on specific committees, with autonomy to make major decisions which affect the whole of Rossendale, instead of the committee’s recommendation being put before the full council for ratification.

"That was the procedure during the 1990s when, through sound reasoning, negotiation and lobbying of all councillors, we were successful in demonstrating that development was inappropriate and gained the support of Labour councillors who were initially in favour of development.

"It is a great pity that the planning system which has evolved over the years, now relies on a planning department making major decisions about our environment, which are then rubber stamped by a planning committee which is either ill-informed of the wider debate, or, we feel, steered by developers eager to get land which they believe to be more profitable than the alternative.

"In this case, the alternative is a housing development on a nearby brownfield site, which had the backing of residents and the wider community. The planning application for the Birtwistle’s site was submitted for approval prior to Taylor Wimpey’s application being put before the council's planning committee. That was approximately three weeks prior to the adoption of the Rossendale Local Plan, which would have resulted in additional environmental requirements, such as heat pumps and solar panels, being installed, to meet the council’s climate change strategy."

'CHANGES ARE LEGITIMATE'

However Rossendale Council has defended its planning arrangements and the role of councillors

A spokesperson said: "The Planning Committee resolution for this application delegated any future alterations to the wording of the planning conditions to the committee chairman, vice chairman and the head of planning.

"Therefore, any changes to the wording of the conditions are legitimate and in-line with the resolution, as long as it has been agreed with the chairman, vice chairman and the head of planning, who have all confirmed their agreement. All local councillors have regularly been kept up to date as well.

"The changes have been to the wording of the conditions to allow a phased implementation of site investigation or development and the changes to the wording have also been agreed with the relevant statutory consultees such as the Environment Agency and the council’s contamination consultant. Therefore, it doesn’t change the requirement to undertake certain works - just that it be done in a phased manner.

"It is also important to note this does not change the requirement for the developer to submit information in Discharge of Conditions applications which would be sent to the council and determined by us, prior to commencement of development."

MUCH-NEEDED HOMES

Taylor Wimpey has said the Helmshore development will provide much needed homes with quality materials, features and landscape work All the details and technical matters were acceptable to planning officers and other authorities, and the plans went through multiple consultations.

Without the Helmshore site and other allocated sites being used, the whole Rossendale area would be left open to speculative development elsewhere, it was argued.

The new homes would have the latest insulation measures and United Utilities and the Environment Agency supported drainage plans, reopening a culvert and run-off restrictions

Cash contributions by Taylor Wimpey were proposed for local schools, sports and recreation facilities, and new shrubs, trees and recreation space for the site.