Tram link and 12,000 new homes Revised masterplan outlines vision for town’s growth
PLANS for a new tram link in Middleton are on track. After years of lobbying, the new line linking the town with Manchester city centre has been included in the reworked masterplan that will shape how the borough develops over the coming 20 years.
The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework includes more than 12,000 new homes and nearly 1 million sq m of employment space - as well as major improvements to the road, rail and Metrolink networks.
The plan was signed off by local leaders and mayor Andy Burnham on Monday and includes plans to extend the Metrolink tram line to Middleton via the Bury line and the Bowker Vale tram stop.
Coun Allen Brett, leader of Rochdale council, said: “I am absolutely thrilled that we have been listened to and Middleton is to finally get a tram line, because, as it stands, the town does not have greater public transport options. When you look at the current network it makes perfect sense for Middleton to be joined to it.
“In the long-term this will alleviate pressure on already congested roads, reduce pollution and make commuting into the city centre for Middleton’s residents much easier than it is at present.”
Middleton councillor Phil Burke, the council’s transport spokesman, added: “Middleton is a growing town and it’s becoming increasingly popular with people who work in the city centre. That’s why it’s so important to have good public transport connections.”
The framework also includes plans to create a new railway station at Slattocks, improve access from Langley to the Northern Gateway, and work to Simister island.
It also features the creation of a new ‘wedge’ of greenbelt land around Thornham Lane and Tandle Hill, 100,000 square metres of space for businesses to operate from in Stakehill business park and 900 new homes in the area.
The original blueprint for the spatial framework sparked controversy, largely over the amount of green belt land proposed to be sacrificed for new homes and businesses.
When Mr Burnham was elected in May 2017 he told town hall chiefs to go back to the drawing board. The second draft was expected in June last year, but fore- casts suggesting the conurbation’s population would not grow as quickly as once thought and confusion over government housebuilding targets led to it being put back five times.
Rochdale bosses believe they have addressed the most controversial aspects of the original plan, while retaining a vision that will see the borough become a key player in Greater Manchester’s economic future.
The plan will still see 635 hectares of Rochdale’s green belt land sacrificed for development - down from the 787 hectares included in the original draft.
However, due to chiefs putting 175 hectares of land into the green belt for the first time, including parts of the Roch Valley and Firgrove Playing Fields - just shy of 60 per cent of the borough would be retained as green belt once everything included in the plan is built.
That represents a 2.9pc loss of green belt, as opposed to the 4.6pc loss in the 2016 spatial framework plan, meaning Rochdale will have the highest proportion of green belt of any of Greater Manchester’s boroughs.
Coun Brett said: “Rochdale is a hugely ambitious borough and we’re planning for major growth in the future.
“By bringing thousands of new jobs and homes, as well as substantial investment, this plan will help us play an even bigger role in Greater Manchester in the future and bring our prosperity in line with other parts of the city region.”
A drop in Rochdale’s projected housing need from 775 per year to 643 per year and identifying alternative sites for development have helped bosses slash the amount of the borough’s green belt lost in the plan.
And they say that the three most controversial developments in the original plan - which accounted for around 90pc of objections - have now been taken out or changed to reflect residents’ concerns.
The 2016 plan included the controversial release of green belt land around Junction 20 of the M62 and the east of the A627(M) around Tandle Hill Country Park for employment use, but this has now been withdrawn, although there will still be residential development to the north of the A627(M) spur road near Stakehill.
Some 125 new homes will be built at the derelict Castleton sidings and this will also come with improvements to highways and a new cycleway, as well as the extension of the East Lancs Railway into Heywood.
Mark Robinson, assistant director of economy at Rochdale council, said: “If we are to attract businesses into Rochdale we have to have a housing offer to attract those businesses as well. We can’t just have the employment (development) we have to have the housing offer that attract the employees for those businesses as well.”
Other major sites include Trows Farm, Castleton, where there are proposals for 360 new homes south of Crown Business Park and a new primary school.
However, housing is just one strand in the plan to transform the borough between now, 2038 and beyond.
Council bosses are determined that Rochdale will play a major role in Greater Manchester’s future economy - and that means creating around 20,000 new jobs. Currently the borough’s employment rate, at 68.5pc, is 4.5pc below the city region average and 6.5pc below the national average.
Coun Brett says the plan gives the borough ‘a oncein-a-generation opportunity to address these challenges and transform our economy, while still remaining the greenest borough in Greater Manchester’.
There are three major employment sites included in the plan. The first is The Northern Gateway, which will utilise land between junctions 18 and 19 of the M62 motorway, close to Heywood Distribution Park. This will include 600,000 square metres of new employment space.
The joint-site, which includes land in Bury, was in the previous spatial framework plan, and council chiefs say research they have carried out suggests the land is ‘extremely attractive’ for employment use. However, the site has now been ear-marked for ‘high end’ advanced manufacturing.
Mr Robinson says the area has been recognised by the government as an area of ‘international significance’ for inward investment in ‘UK Plc’.
He added: “Our aspiration is to develop an Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP). We’ve done work with colleagues in Sheffield and Rotherham around work they are doing with Boeing and various other companies. We’re looking at an AMP linked to universities to really put this part of Greater Manchester on the map.”
Their plan also still includes plans to expand Kingsway Business Park on the south side of the M62, which will be linked to by a new access road from Junction 21. This will provided more than 130 sq m of new employment land as well as 182 extra homes.
The other big employment site is at Stakehill, albeit this has been scaled back from the 2016 blueprint. This will provide 100,000 sq m of space for businesses to operate from, and there will also be 900 new homes in the area.
The proposals include additional school places at Thornham St John Primary School and a new green belt ‘wedge’ around Thornham Lane and Tandle Hill that was previously earmarked for development.
Mr Robinson said: “This plan really is about significantly boosting the local economic output of the borough. We need to plan for the housing growth, but more importantly we need to find jobs for our existing and future residents to access the spatial framework is about delivering those jobs and homes.”
Linking all this together will be an improved transport infrastructure, including a new M62 Junction 18a at Birch Services and improvements to Simister island and a ‘rapid transit route’ linking the Northern Gateway with Manchester city centre.
There are also proposals to improve access from Langley to the Northern Gateway at Heywood and Pilsworth site, via cycleways, footpaths and a possible new bus route.
This would mean residents would not have to use the M62 which currently acts as a barrier, despite the proximity of the two sites.
There are also proposals to improve the Calder Valley rail line, a new railway station at Slattocks and a direct Rochdale to Piccadilly Metrolink service, as well as extending the tram line to Middleton.
Further plans include increasing the frequency of the Rochdale-to-Oldham tram so that one service can branch off on to the main rail line and continue via on to Castleton and Heywood via Rochdale train station.
The plan will now go out to consultation for eight weeks from January 21. Visit rochdale.gov.uk/spatialframework
Residents can also access the consultation in libraries across the borough and a drop-in session will also be taking place at Middleton Arena on Monday, February 11, from 4pm to 7pm.
Stakehill Business Park will get another 100,000 sq m of business space, with 900 new homes nearby
‘When you look at the current network it makes perfect sense for Middleton to be joined to it’ says council leader Allen Brett