MONTHS of campaigning came to an end last night as Bolton Council controversially approved plans to turn a large swathe of Cutacre into an industrial estate.
More than 200 people demonstrated outside Bolton Town Hall, brandishing placards, chanting slogans and lobbying councillors as they arrived to vote on the future of the open cast mine near Over Hulton.
Their efforts were in vain, however, as the council voted in favour of the “core strategy” proposal which will see a 209-acre industrial estate built on Cutacre.
Over Hulton resident Tony Webster, aged 49, who has been instrumental in co-ordinating the residents’ campaign said: “I think at the end of the day it’s been a little bit of a whitewash. The people around the borough who are in need of employment are not going to find it at Cutacre because there is not the transport infrastructure to support it.”
But Council leader Cliff Morris, who supports the Cutacre development, said the revised plan would include a country park area that was twice the size of Queens Park.
He said: “We’ve compromised. We’ve listened to the residents. Part of it will be a country park, and I think we’ve supported the residents quite well.”
More than 50 people were crammed into the council chamber’s public gallery to watch councillors debate the issue, while a further 150 watched via video link downstairs in the Lancaster Suite — a device used for the first time in the council’s history.
The packed gallery applauded as some of the councillors made speeches in defence of Cutacre, but they fell silent as a show of hands revealed that their efforts had failed.
Hulton councillors Cllr Andy Morgan, Cllr Phil Ashcroft and Cllr Alan Walsh delivered carefully prepared speeches detailing all the arguments against developing Cutacre, but they failed to convince the majority.
Cllr Ashcroft said: “I would much rather it be Bolton-le-Moors than Bolton-le-Concrete or Bolton-le-Gridlock.”
Cllr Morgan said: “All of the councillors here would have supported these residents if they had experienced the same strength of feeling that we have.
“I want you to think how you would deal with this proposal if it was in your ward.”
After the meeting, many campaigners expressed dismay that the vote appeared to have been pre-planned, as all 26 Labour and nine Liberal Democrats voted in favour of developing Cutacre, while all 20 Conservative councillors voted against it.
Norman Theaker, aged 70, of Reynolds Close, Over Hulton, said: “We’re very disappointed, but not surprised.
“I will sit back now because there’s not much I can do except watch to see how close we come to getting the country park that we were promised.”
Over Hulton Community Group chairman Ann Penny said the decision was not democratic because Labour councillors appeared not to have been given a free vote.
She said: “Some of them said to us that they supported us individually when they walked in, but what does that mean?
“It’s supposed to be a free vote.”
Over Hulton residents are vehemently opposed to the Cutacre plan, which will result in the destruction of 92 acres of green belt land.
Campaigners can draw comfort from the fact that their protests made an impact, however, as the plans were massively scaled back in response to the wave of protests.
Town hall bosses had wanted to create a 360-acre “employment zone”, eating up 240 acres of the green belt.
Campaigners still say the new scheme is a long way away from the country park described in a public inquiry decision in 2001, which included detailed plans for extensive woodland, wetlands, conservation areas, species-rich grassland, hedgerows and agricultural land.
The core strategy — Bolton’s long-term economic plan for the next 15-20 years — will now be subject to a six-week formal consultation in January, which will be followed by a public inquiry later in the year.
The plan will come into force, if the inspector approves it, in March 2011.