Councillors will tonight consider a report outlining reasons to approve detailed plans for a large development at Land at Home Farm on Gresford Road in Llay, despite a local councillors saying there is ‘definitely something going on’ with issues of land instability due to old mine workings.
Outline plans for the site, which at the time consisted of up to 365 houses and a retail unit, had been rejected by members of the planning committee in October 2015 due to concerns about the development falling outside the settlement limit and the increased pressure on local infrastructure.
However an appeal by the applicants was lodged shortly afterwards and an inquiry into the the proposed took place in November 2016.
In June 2017 Wrexham.com reported that the plans had been given the go ahead, despite fierce opposition from a group of local campaigners and local councillors voting against it.
The plans for the development were approved by First Minister Carwyn Jones last summer, after recommended for approval by Planning Inspectorate Richard Duggan.
Councillors are reminded that tonight’s debate they “…cannot revisit whether the site should be developed, whether it is suitable for development or whether local infrastructure can accommodate the development”, rather being ‘limited’ to “considering the merits of the development in respect of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale.”
Gresford Community Council raised concerns about the increase in traffic to be generated through Gresford Village by the development in particular down the Griffin Hill. Concern was also raised about the proposed retail park on the site and the lack of detail and information concerning this. Rossett Community Council had no objections.
Councillor Russ Gilmartin lists several objections including: “I fear the Alyn family doctors who provide health service to Llay, Gresford, Marford, and Rossett are already working to capacity; having so many new houses in the area would cause a huge strain on their service.
“There is not enough schools in the area to cope with the demand for a development of this size with, some local residents already finding it difficult to get their child a place at their desired school. It brings into questioning, how far should a child have to travel to go to school?”
The Highways Department are critical of some elements of the plans, noting: “There is nothing within the current application which considers how the development site will link into or complement the existing Active Travel route. A development of this size should also help fund the proposed Active Travel route.”
With bus travel often being relied upon by developers the ongoing degradation of local services is referenced: “Since being granted planning approval in 2017 the frequency of the bus service in the vicinity of the site has significantly reduced.
“The no. 34 bus now only passes the site 3 times a day and only 3 days a week. The site is not therefore as sustainable as at the time of the appeal hearing and the developer should therefore be considering how to improve the bus service provision to the site.”
Highways are also critical over the foot traffic plans: “It is noted that there are no footway links towards Crown Crossroads from the Northern area of the site through what the development plans now show to be a ‘future retail development’. There is no indication as to when this footway link to the Crown crossroads will be completed.”
Despite the huge scale of the development, there does not appear to be a response from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board on this item, nor to any other applications being heard tonight – as is sadly the norm.
The longest response is given by campaigners Gresford Road Action Group, that notes: “A major issue highlighted by many objectors at every stage of this proposed development has been the stability of the land.”
The report tomorrow tells planning committee members: “A program of research has been carried out by members of Gresford Road Action Group using the documents that we offered to Mr Phillips and Mr Duggan.
“Following visits to the National Archives in Hawarden, records relating to the coal seams, tunnels, underground haulage networks and risks associated with land at Home Farm have been identified. Copies of which are now in our possession.
“These documents would be made available to view to any relevant party if requested. Was it really the responsibility of the residents of Gresford Road to identify the causes of land instability at Home Farm?
“Local residents continue to have major concerns regarding this development site. Visual observations continue to identify further land subsidence and increased flooding. Areas of flooding have already extended beyond the boundary of the adjacent property known as Maes y Rhedyn.
“If this development proceeds, someone will need to take responsibility for any future structural damage that may occur – to the proposed development site or those existing properties along the Gresford Road.
“Will Wrexham County Borough Council guarantee that our homes will not be affected by flooding or subsidence due to intensive building and construction on Home Farm land known to be already subsiding and sinking?”
Out of 60 neighbouring properties notified there were 29 representations made, with a large range of issues being raised including; population increase, Traffic congestion, Pressure on GP surgeries and schools and some saying they thought the appeal process ‘was not fair’.
The land instability issue is noted by the Officer in his report before Councillors, where he explains after citing the First Minister and Inspector’s previous decision: “Taking account of all of the above I have no reason to believe that any development carried out on the site is at significant risk from past coal mining, or that developing the site presents a significant risk to the stability or safety of adjacent properties.
“Furthermore I can only I can only re-iterate that this is a matter that relates to the principle of development. It cannot be revisited and would not be a valid reason to withhold reserved matters approval.”
In an email hours before the meeting, committee members appeared to be encouraged to move for a site visit, with campaigners stating: “Visible observation would confirm the lack of stability on the land.”
In the email they add: “The Planning Officer states that we can not revisit the issue of land stability at Home Farm. Llay as he considers the basic reports issued by the Coal Authority sufficient.
“We have taken legal advice on this and were informed that as the subsidence and flooding is a major and on going issue we have the right to raise the matter before detailed planning is granted.”
“We have undertaken extensive research into this matter and offered the evidence to both the Planning Officer and the Inspector. Both declined to take up our offer.”
Wrexham.com queried with Wrexham Council on if detail was declined by Wrexham Council’s Planning Department, specifically the officer, and if so, why that was.
Wrexham Council told us: “Wrexham Council’s planning department officers have no recollection of the information being offered or declined.
“They are aware that there are mine workings beneath the site which was considered both at outline application stage and by the appeal inspector and First Minister.
“The site is classified as low risk by the Coal Authority who also make the recommendation that if any coal mining feature is encountered during development, this should be reported immediately to the Coal Authority on 0345 762 6848.
“Further information is also available on the Coal Authority website at: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/the-coal-authority “.
Campaigners dispute that recollection, telling us: “We received the document from Bersham Mining Records late 2014. When we realised the importance of this document (early 2015) I phoned Mathew Phillips and offered it to him. He declined it stating that he was happy with the report supplied by the architect even though we pointed out that the report obtained was seriously flawed.
“On the 20th June 2016 we offered the same documents to the planning inspectorate in our letter of objection and also offered it to Richard Duggan the inspector at the appeal. Once again the offer was declined.”
Llay County Councillor Rob Walsh said in a media release before the meeting: “The fields do seem to have sunk and there is definitely something going on. When it was going through outline planning, we expressed concerns it was not safe to build on and there are still strong concerns.
“I am worried for any future residents living there, and I hope developers investigate these issues thoroughly and do not build there if it is unsafe.”
A decision on the plans will be made by the planning committee at 4pm this afternoon.