BARNSLEY Council’s leader has told campaigners the local authority will ‘not stand still’ and lose out on much-needed jobs in the borough after coming under fire for opening up fiercely protected green belt land for development.
Sir Steve Houghton told the Chronicle the borough occupies a prime location - between the A1 and M1 - making Barnsley attractive to big-name companies such as Hermes, whose controversial £60m ‘mega hub’ is being built in Hoyland.
Work began on the site last week, prompting fresh anger from campaigners who blasted the council for failing to protect its green spaces - something which Coun Houghton refuted.
He added: “Allocating green belt land for development doesn’t mean we don’t care about our green spaces - our environment will always be a priority and the local plan continues to protect around three-quarters of the borough which remains in the green belt.
“If we don’t develop some additional areas of land, businesses and jobs will go elsewhere and many Barnsley residents will have to continue leaving the borough to work.
“With any extensive development, we understand that there is an impact on our residents, and not everyone will welcome it. We’re about to see a massive amount of investment put into the Hoyland area which amounts to an overall investment of around £60m.
“This brings with it a vast number of benefits including around 2,000 jobs in total, a new link road to act as a bypass for Hoyland Common to ease congestion, a new sporting and community facility and new woodlands.
“We’ve worked hard to make sure plans across the borough protect and enhance biodiversity as well as ensuring new development is resilient to climate change.
“Doing this, while growing the economy, is a difficult balance, which we’re assessing all the time. However, if we stand still, the borough’s economy will stand still.
“We’re committed to bringing forward plans and strategies that seek to grow our economy while continuing to protect and enhance everything special about our borough.”
Following a two-year public examination of the council’s local plan development blueprint - carried out by the Planning Inspectorate appointed by the Secretary of State - it was agreed that allocating land within the green belt was unavoidable.
However, large factions of the community - notably those neighbouring the Hermes site and at Penny Pie Park in the Dodworth ward - have condemned the council for failing to listen to residents’ voices who came together to collate huge petitions against large-scale developments.
“I don’t think anyone can argue the fact that Barnsley needs more and better jobs, improved and affordable housing and better transport links for local people,” Sir Steve said.
“We’ve been hit hard by coronavirus and I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be a long recovery. To give Barnsley its best chance, we must continue to deliver the borough’s local plan.
“Industries have changed, and jobs that were once underground are now needed on the surface. We need to focus on this now so we can give our future generations reasons to aspire, grow and live better lives in the borough.
“To secure new jobs, the land needs to be in the right place and we’re sitting in prime position to attract investment.
“The Dearne Valley corridor and motorway sites are the backbone of our recovery and future economic growth as they have been across the country.
“Skilled, well-paid jobs are being created at junction 36 as part of the thriving Gateway 36 business park, and Sheffield City Region funding is developing new distribution centres such as Capitol Park off junction 37, home to the north’s new state-of-the-art NHS facility.
“It’s clear that we’re committed a long-term future for our residents.”