Another challenge to the West Lancashire Green Belt is being made in Simonswood with a proposal for use of agricultural land as a golf academy. Notwithstanding the pitiful destruction of the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC) driving range for a mad foot golf concept that is already years behind schedule and requiring serious remedial re-profiling, comes one with the same designer, Weller Designs, providing the landfill proposal .
The BPGC proposed development comprised the remodelling of approximately 12 hectares of the existing Beacon Park Golf Course. It involved the remodelling of the 5th, 6th, 13th and 14th holes and construction of temporary greens and tees with the importation of 55,000cubic meters of inert soil; remodelling of the golf range to provide perimeter mounding and improved targets with 35,000cubic meters of inert soil; formation of 9hole short course for junior golfers on 3.7ha land to be formed by importation of 65,000cubic metres of inert soil; remodelling of 1st and 2nd tee with 32,000cubic metres of inert soil. In all 187,000cubic metres were delivered by 23,375 HGVs. As we all know it is an affront of a description as a leisure facility, being dangerous, unusable, and locked up.
As long ago as 1 April 2004, in the Overview and Scrutiny Annual Report 2003/4, it was decided “Beacon Park Extreme Sports; That Cabinet be requested to consider (a) That any reference to Beacon Park be excluded from any feasibility study for an extreme Sports Park. (b) If a feasibility study is carried out it should only look at alternative sites. That no future action be taken in relation to the investigation into the potential of an Extreme Sports Park at the Beacon Park site or elsewhere in West Lancashire”. So in 2018 you might wonder how extreme a sport it would be to play academy styled 9Hole golf, or foot golf, at the landfill site extreme sports park created by the controversial partnership of the West Lancashire Community Leisure Ltd (WLCL), Serco Leisure Operating Services (SLOS) Ltd, and subcontracted to Oakland Golf & Leisure Ltd.
As is widely known throughout West Lancashire since 2005 the contract for WLBC Leisure Services has been the responsibility of West Lancashire Community Leisure Ltd (WLCL) and sub contracted to Serco Leisure Operating Services (SLOS) Ltd. The exception has been for the Beacon Park Golf Course until 2013 after the financial failure of DCT Leisure. But Serco inherited 2011/0787/FUL, recommended and received on 13 July 2011 and “in pursuance of its powers under the above-mentioned Act and Order, West Lancashire Borough Council as Local Planning Authority, having considered your application, hereby grants permission for: Partial remodelling of existing golf course and driving range and creation of new nine hole short course at Beacon Park Golf And Country Club, Beacon Lane, Dalton, Wigan” . We all know what happened there!
While WLBC was gradually allowing the destruction of the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC) driving range and some land used for practice alongside the 18 hole course becoming an academy 9 hole junior course, all on the basis of the “economic viability community social hub” its planning officers were considering an application initially mooted in 2014 to create another golf academy a mere 12 miles or so away in Simonswood .
It was claimed that “There is no existing facility within the local area that currently compares with the proposed development. What is proposed is intended to fulfil a very pressing need both in the immediate area and more widely to extend the joys of golf to a greater number of people, to supply a much needed community facility, to improve golfing skills generally and importantly to provide a sporting, recreational, educational and healthy pastime”. It might seem odd that BPGC is WLBC owned and denigrated while this new description applies to a private application on fine agricultural land.
The new application underwent a pre-planning process numbered PRE/2014/0409/SIG that informed of its intention. It would need, according to the Transport Statement for N Langton Plant Hire of Bridge Farm Dale Lane Simonswood Liverpool L33 3AU, Bickerstaffe Ward, 137,951cubic metres of landfill delivered by 17,244 HGVs. The response from WLBC was summarised as “The change of use of this site for a golf course/academy is considered to be inappropriate development in the green belt. Inappropriate development requires the demonstration of very special circumstances to justify the harm to the Green belt and the onus lies with the applicant to demonstrate such circumstances”. Simonswood Parish Council formally objected to it.
“Bridge Farm Golf Academy Dale Lane, Simonswood. Transport Statement Final Report for: N Langton Plant Hire October 2016. Bridge Farm Golf Academy Proposed Golf Practice Range, Nine Hole Par 3 Course and Adventure Golf Course. Incorporating a Water Harvesting Scheme for Irrigation, Significant Planting and Greatly Increased Biodiversity. At Bridge Farm Dale Lane, Simonswood Kirkby L33 3AU Planning Statement Version 1 2nd November 2016 Compiled by David Weller” [see above].
This document sets out the relevant planning policies for this application and then goes on to assess how the application complies with policy. 1.2 Relevant policies are taken from the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and from the West Lancashire Local Plan. Further guidance has also been taken from the pre application advice issued to the applicant (reference PRE/2014/0409/SIG. 1.1.3 This Planning Statement should be read in conjunction with the submitted Design and Access Statement and accompanying plans and consultant reports.
The proposed practice ground, par 3 course and Adventure Golf Course will attract beginners and families wanting to try golf for the first time as well as attract existing golfers wishing to develop their game. A facility such as this encourages sporting activity and healthiness and provides a viable business opportunity with the additional economic and employment benefit this brings with it. A facility such as this will provide a social hub in the community providing a place where people of all ages can meet up.
But perhaps the ultimate explanation of how and why this development should not proceed is contained in a letter from the CPRE “The site is at the boundary of the West Lancashire Green Belt and as such should be granted the protection of Policy EN2: Preserving and Enhancing West Lancashire’s Natural Environment, particularly sections 4- Land Resources and 6- Landscape Character.
“It is adjacent to the boundary of Knowsley Metropolitan Borough at Kirkby. It forms part of the Western edge of the upland mosses of Simonswood, Bickerstaff and Whitemoss mosses which collectively create a totally different landscape character to that of the adjoining urban area of Kirkby.
“The green belt of West Lancashire is contiguous with that of St Helens and provides an essential separation of the urban area of Greater Liverpool from that of Greater Manchester. It is of regional as well as local importance.
“This green belt should be preserved and developments such as this proposal not be permitted to intrude.Neither the green metal cladding on the proposed buildings nor the high boundary fences are shown on the photomontages of the proposed development.
“The application contains an assessment that the arable pasture is graded 2 or 3a agricultural land . Our view is that with good husbandry it could be restored to Grade 1 MAFF classification. The existing pond is first shown on historic maps in 1709. The historic survey erroneously assumes that the pond is retained, though the redesigned scheme destroys the pond and replaces it with two attenuation ponds elsewhere on the site. The Ecological Assessment (4.2) reports that the pond is used for fishing and provides a good habitat for invertebrates and amphibians, noting the presence of frogs and considers it a “Valued Ecological Receptor of District Value as do the shrubs, tree, and boundary hedges”. The wild life that relies on the existing pond cannot be expected to thrive in attenuation ponds. Such ponds provide food sources for bats. There are bats in the wider area and we consider the submitted bat survey inadequate. The land raising will adversely affect the retained trees.
“The land raising and modeling by importation of 133,110 cu meters of “inert soil approved by the Environment Agency” to raise the land to form the many facilities of the proposed Golf Academy gives us great concern for two reasons:
a) This large quantity would seem to be based on the fill material necessary to achieve the final design contours of the proposed landform. In practice some 20-30 % more will be needed to form higher mounds to allow for compaction during the construction phase and long term settlement so that the proposed design contours for rainwater run off are achieved in the long term.
b) The Environment Agency does not approve or apparently monitor the composition of inert soil. The Environment Agency, when it considers it appropriate, “for engineering and other purposes” issues Waste Management Licenses. These authorise the disposal or deposit of controlled waste in or on land provided it does not cause pollution, harm to health or serious detriment to local amenity. The authorised waste is typically demolition material; ungraded rubble, brick, stone, concrete and other waste of various size.
“Our observation of similar “improvements” at the golf driving range and practice field at the Beacon Park is that large lumps of stone and concrete quickly appear on the surface as the thin layer of replaced fine topsoil washes into the fill.
“Once implemented this development will be irreversible for the site cannot be economically restored to pasture land in the event of the Golf Academy being unsuccessful. We note that the Long Term Business Plan, section 3.4 of the Environmental Statement is very brief. It does not include forecasts of costs, numbers of users or proposed charges. There is no justification for either the number ofcar parking spaces to be provided or the long proposed opening hours of the Golfing Academy.
“Golf driving ranges in both West Lancashire and Knowsley have closed in recent years and although the applicant’s aspirations are worthy such a development should not be permitted in the West Lancashire Green Belt but may be more appropriate elsewhere in Knowsley and Greater Liverpool on existing developed land. There are no “very special circumstances” that justify any departure from the approved WLBC local plan”.
The question for WLBC is, why would the destruction and possible demise of its own, that is tax payer owned, “community leisure hub” in Skelmersdale be the catalyst for a private leisure hub in another WLBC ward of Bickerstaffe?