Demolition plans could ‘destroy businesses’ and must be dropped, councillor says

Proposals to demolish buildings in Littleborough could ‘destroy’ several businesses and should be pulled from a major regeneration plan for the area, it has been claimed.

Councillor John Taylor has urged local authority chiefs to remove plans to flatten ‘low quality commercial units’ in Victoria Street before the scheme goes out to consultation.

Among the premises that could be bulldozed are an opticians, a podiatrist and a children’s craft hub.

READ MORE : ‘Embarrassed’ councillor threatens to walk out of bad tempered meeting she felt was ‘turning into a fight’

The proposals sparked fury among business owners who said they were in the dark over the plans until they appeared in a Rochdale council report earlier this month.

Known as ‘the draft Littleborough station area Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), the plan sets out ambitions for ‘renewal and redevelopment’, including a ‘new gateway public square’, better parking and a defined ‘village heart’.

Council chiefs insist there will be a genuine consultation on the scheme and the public will be listened to.

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But on Tuesday night, Coun Taylor told a council scrutiny meeting that – as per its name – the document should focus on the station area, not the wider village.

While he was happy enough with the proposals for the ‘Station’ and ‘Canal Side’ areas, he said Victoria Street should not have been included in the plan.

The Wardle and West Littleborough councillor said: “This is about the train station, and Victoria Street is not anywhere near the train station

“That’s the area that’s proved to be very contentious, to say the least. Businesses and residents are under siege and that will not help the council consultation process at all.”

Councillor John Taylor

Coun Taylor added told the meeting he sympathised with businesses, and that the Victoria Street proposals had ‘the potential to destroy’ many of the village’s well-established independent shops and services.

Describing the SPD as a ‘massive plan’ which could ‘completely change Littleborough’, he stressed that widespread public consultation – from leaflet drops and questionnaires to face-to-face sessions – was essential.

“For us to have a meaningful conversation and consultation and get to a plan that people are happy with we should remove the Victoria Street element from this plan in its entirety and focus on the two areas that do fall within the environs of the train station,” he said.

“The purpose is to provide a development strategy for Littleborough train station and that’s what we need and nothing more.”

Mark Robinson, assistant director for planning, said it was a possibility that removal of the Victoria Street element ‘could form one of the changes that takes place following the consultation’.

However, talking after the meeting economy chief Councillor John Blundell – who is behind the rail corridor strategy – said he saw no reason to remove Victoria Street from the consultation.

He said: “I don’t know why Littleborough would benefit from not covering the entire village and the commercial centre – why would you treat one area differently to the others?

“Just because the SPD is there, doesn’t mean it has to be acted on and would definitely happen.”

He stressed that it would be a ‘genuine consultation’, pointing to changes made to the Rochdale Station SPD as a result of public feedback.

“It makes no sense at all to remove that part,” he said.

“I want to stick to what I think is best for Littleborough, that means listening to the public, not a handful of individuals that think they speak for the public.”

However, Coun Blundell welcomed an apology made by Councillor Ashley Dearnley in relation to the last Pennine Township committee meeting, where the SPD was also discussed.

The Conservative group leader clarified he had not meant to imply any ‘impropriety’ on behalf of any councillors or officers in relation to the Littleborough United Reformed Church site.

He had also been assured by officers that correct processes had been adhered to.

Coun Blundell said he was pleased the matter had been cleared up as Coun Dearnley had been a councillor for a long time and was highly respected.

Rochdale council’s communities, regeneration and environment overview and scrutiny committee – met at Number One Riverside on Tuesday night (September 28).

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