Firstly, I would like to thank the Inspector for giving me the opportunity to make this statement to the Inquiry. I know many residents in Heald Green care deeply about this issue and wanted to see their MP have some input, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.
We are here today because the Seashell Trust has expressed the need to develop on the Green Belt to ensure its future and viability. I know this is a particularly challenging inquiry and I’m aware emotions have already run high throughout various points of the process.
This is not a straight forward planning application. The Trust know that I support their educational goals and the fantastic work they do. And I also know that they understand my long-stated commitment to protect the Green Belt in Cheadle, one which I made to voters in both 2015 and 2017.
I would like to state from the outset my support for the great work the Trust undertakes for children and young people with disabilities.
Over the past few years I have seen their work first hand and have had the privilege to meet dedicated members of staff, trustees, and pupils both at their site…..including at the recent opening of their new state of the art 3G pitch, and in Westminster, where I recently hosted a reception to launch their new socio-economic impact report. We were also fortunate to have the Children’s Minister, Nahdim Zahawi, present to comment on the Trust’s work.
I know you have already heard from the Trust’s Principal, Jolanta McCall, who I have met since she took up her post last September, and who is a key figure in taking the school from strength to strength. She is committed and passionate about the future of the school.
However there is no doubt that this school is achieving outstanding outcomes and transforming the lives of young people with the most profound and complex disabilities within a building that has served its purpose well but needs modernising.
I have met with the Trust on a number of occasions both here and with Ministers in Westminster, in pursuit of a solution through the Department for Education. I remain open to pursuing these avenues with the Trust and will continue to seek a solution that meets both their needs, and prevents the unnecessary loss of local Green Belt.
The reason why I have stated that this application is not straightforward is that you have the task of balancing all the issues I have mentioned with the clear benefits which the Green Belt brings to communities locally, and which this application puts at risk.
We need adequate Green Belt provision for a number of reasons, and it will be wrong for us to overlook those benefits.
Removing this green belt barrier and allowing the proposed development would not only merge urban communities but have a negative impact on the wellbeing of those communities.
Our health agenda is increasingly one which seeks to socially prescribe rather than medicate and our open spaces are an important part of local public health.
One of the primary benefits of Green Belt is to promote and enhance healthier lifestyles through open spaces and cleaner air, however in an area already surrounded by major transport hubs and routes, this loss of Green Belt, leading to fewer green spaces together with more congestion issues, will not be conducive to better public health and wellbeing.
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology state that “areas with more accessible green space are associated with better mental and physical health”. Local Authorities have also rightly identified mental health as a key public health issue and the role of green spaces in addressing this must not be overlooked.
In my view the evidence is clear that maintaining access to green spaces coupled with physical activity improves mental well-being and can help remedy mild depression. Depriving residents in Heald Green of this vital ‘green lung’ will have a significant impact.
In this same light there is a renewed focus on the quality of our environment.
Air pollution harms our local environment and presents major health challenges for local authorities. The development of 325 homes on the proposed site will have a particularly detrimental effect on congestion in the area will conflict the aims of reducing emissions set out in the Greater Manchester Clean Air Strategy.
It is argued that the “very special circumstances” necessitating this development justify the loss of green belt as set out in the application. However, when considered alongside the other factors such as traffic congestion, the lack of suitable infrastructure, and the cost to public health the balance tips.
The loss of this green belt would be too heavy a price for the local community to pay.
Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to address this Inquiry.