Councillors feel that residents have been ‘let down’ by the amount of money their communities will get if the proposed Northampton Gateway development is approved.
Roxhill's Northampton Gateway proposal would see a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) comprising large warehouses built on land east of the West Coast Main Line and next to junction 15 of the M1, between Milton Malsor and Collingtree.
But members of South Northamptonshire Council have hit out at their own authority for the ‘small’ amount of money - just £300,000 - that it has agreed with developers that would be pumped back into the neighbouring villages as ‘mitigation’ for the development.
Major planning schemes usually result in developers providing ‘section 106’ funds to benefit neighbouring areas. But officers at the council were accused of striking a deal ‘behind the backs’ of the planning committee, which voiced its discontent at the latest meeting on Thursday (April 11).
The £300,000 fund, to be spent locally and administered by the council, is intended to be spent within the parishes of Blisworth, Milton Malsor and Roade.
But Councillor Karen Cooper, whose ward includes Milton Malsor, asked whether officers had just accepted the sum or whether they challenged it.
She said: “When I saw the sum I was absolutely astonished. That £300,000 has to cover three villages, and that’s a joke. Myself and my ward partner were not consulted on this, I just saw that it had already been signed. You are here to fight for us, and I feel really let down for my residents.”
Jim Newton, assistant director for planning and economy, responded that there was ‘no science’ behind the sums. He said: “There’s no need according to the rules of the game for Roxhill to provide anything. They have chosen to offer that and we chose to accept. I take it on the chin that you don’t think it’s enough.”
Members were told that the section 106 agreement was required to be signed and sealed by the examining authority currently looking into the application. The deadline was April 1, which meant that there was ‘insufficient time’ for the planning committee to formally consider the matter itself. For this reason, it was decided by chief executive Richard Ellis, with the agreement of council leader Ian McCord, to invoke the urgent completion of the agreement.
Planning committee vice chairman Cllr Ken Pritchard said: “I’m amazed at the amount that we’ve requested, it’s absolutely abysmal and it’s just not satisfactory. This particular project is running into hundreds of millions of pounds. When you look at how it surrounds Milton Malsor it’s going to be hell for them.”
And Councillor Martin Johns added: “You say there is no science behind it, but that means there should have been a negotiation. The previous application we discussed was for 82 homes, and that got more than £1.4million for section 106 funds. It’s difficult to explain to local parishes that they will have this huge development on their doorstep, and the mitigation for it in terms of section 106 is frankly very small.”
But Mr Newton pointed out that the ‘community fund’ of £300,000 that was being discussed was ‘only one aspect’ of the funding. He said that Roxhill was also spending £1.1million on bus services and £650,000 on highways improvements.
But planning chairman Cllr Fiona Baker felt the deal had been ‘done behind our backs’, and that if it had come to the committee they wouldn’t have agreed to it.
She said: “These other things are mitigating for their own development, they are not of benefit to us. So it’s only the £300,000 that we see as a benefit, and I agree with the committee that this is very poor indeed for the detriment it will have on local people.”
The deadline for the public examination of the Northampton Gateway proposals closed on Tuesday (April 9). There will now be a period of three months for the examining authority to write its report and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will then have three months in which to make a decision on whether to grant the scheme planning permission.
Applicants Roxhill say that significant improvements will be made to junction 15 of the M1, as well as a new bypass to the village of Roade as part of a package of other highways works on and around the A508 corridor and at M1 Junction 15A. It says there will also be significant new landscaping and tree planting to substantially screen the site from surrounding communities.