FURIOUS residents have challenged Bolton Council to ‘regain the trust of the community’ over the controversial Horwich Loco Works development.

A crowd of more than 100 people attended a public meeting tonight, organised by the Horwich First community group and chaired by Chris Green MP, to air their concerns over the huge site earmarked for 1,700homes.

Julie Aldcroft, who has worked on the Loco Works site for 25 years, gave a presentation on the contamination caused by the land’s industrial past and said more must be done to ensure the safety of current and future residents.

She said: “We would like to see the council and the Environment Agencytake control and oversee a complete contamination investigation done to the full British standard, openness and plain English in the findings, and the full remediation of the site.

“They need to regain the trust of the community and guarantee that whatever money is needed to do this safely will be spent.”

Ms Aldcroft claimed that proper inspections of the site had not been carried out, despite fears over ash, asbestos, and various chemicals contaminating the land.

The council was accused of showing ‘contempt’ for the people of Horwich after council leader Cliff Morris and other town hall bosses declined to attend the meeting. Empty chairs were left at the front of the hall at Horwich RMI Club for Cllr Morris and representatives of the council’s planning, highways, and environmental health departments.

Mr Green said: “What we all want is for the Loco Works, which has been mostly derelict for so many years, to be redeveloped.

“There is a huge opportunity for housing to be developed on that brownfield site. I am really positive and enthusiastic about that in principle, but it has to be done in the right way. People are rightly concerned about contaminated land, about transport, health, education, and other issues.”

He added: “I invited Cliff Morris to come here tonight and talk to local residents about what his vision for the Loco Works is and what his understanding of the current situation is. He declined that invitation because he had another meeting to go to, and did not send a deputy.

“The council planning department also declined to come. It is really disappointing. Two years ago I came to meeting like this organised by my predecessor – since then we have gone from having a masterplan to something far more piecemeal. The council is on board, it seems, with what is going on but we haven’t had any update or effective communication.”

Cllr Kevin McKeon said that the council was committed to developing the land as it is vital to its house-building plans, and that the town hall was ‘working very hard’ in negotiations with the various landowners.

On the issue of land contamination, he added: “Of course contamination is a concern. The Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, and academics are all involved in looking at the remediation that is necessary. It is inconceivable that all of those organisations together would allow dangerous contamination.”

Stuart Whittle, chairman of Horwich Heritage, gave a presentation on the lack of a masterplan for the Loco Works site following the breakup of the Horwich Vision development group.

He said that the current plans ‘look like they were drawn on the back of an envelope’ and criticised their lack of provision for open space, footpaths, cycleways, and other infrastructure.

Mr Whittle added that a Bellway Homes plan to build 112 homes on the site should be withdrawn until a more detailed masterplan is approved.

Horwich town councillor Marie Brady spoke to the crowd about transport issues resulting from the proposals, saying that a new link road from the site to Aspinall Way must be built at the earliest opportunity to help relieve congestion.