A PLANNING inquiry has begun into the 1.1m sq ft West of Wingates industrial scheme proposed to be built on greenbelt land in Westhoughton.

Applicants Harworth Group say the plans will create up to 1,800 jobs and the scheme was given outline approval by Bolton Council in January.

However, the Communities Secretary ‘called in’ the proposed scheme alongside other major regional planning applications in May.

Representatives of both Harworth and Bolton Council told the Planning Inspectorate inquiry, which is set to last for five days, that the benefits of the scheme outweigh the harm caused.

But local councillors and many Westhoughton residents have expressed opposition to losing such a large area of existing greenbelt land.

Stephanie Hall, for Bolton Council, said: “The main parties to this inquiry are in the unusual position of agreement that the scheme should proceed.”

Miss Hall conceded that the proposals would ’cause harm to the openness and purpose of the greenbelt  and that harm was substantial but was capable of being outweighed by other factors’.

She, said: “The economic benefits of the scheme are significant and the applicant has demonstrated a compelling need for the it to be brought forward at this time and at this location.”

She said there were points of difference between the council and the developers which were whether there was a need for a contribution to public transport and cycling and walking to make the application acceptable.

Jonathan Easton, on behalf of Harworth, said the proposal “will deliver a package of compelling benefits for the people of Bolton”.

He added: “This will be an extremely valuable addition to the area, responding to deprivation, contributing to unmet need for more floorspace and fitting neatly with the government’s levelling up agenda.

“The seismic impacts of the pandemic simply underscore the importance of deliverable schemes which will help Britain recover.

“This is just the sort of proposal that the Prime Minister must have had in mind when he announced in June his strategy to rebuild Britain and fuel economic recovery.

“We recognise entirely that the site is located on the greenbelt.

“The evidence will be clear that the factors that weigh in favour of the proposal clearly outweigh the definition of the greenbelt.

“This is life-changing for many Bolton residents.

“There are no sites within Bolton to meet this need for employment land in terms of both quantity and quality the scheme provides a deliverable opportunity brought forward by an applicant with an enviable track record including in Bolton at the Logistics North site.”

He said the scheme would benefit the local economy by £126m per annum.

Speaking when the application was originally ruled upon , Westhoughton South representative, Cllr David Wilkinson said that if it was approved the green belt ‘means nothing’.

He said: “We’ve contributed a lot of land to the demand. Now we’re being asked to sacrifice the rest.”

Liberal Democrat leader on Bolton Council, Cllr Roger Hayes, said his group opposed the plans.

He said: “The loss of so much green belt land does more harm than any benefits.

“If the scheme is approved the land will be lost for future generations.”

Planning inspector Brian Sims will decide on the application after the inquiry has ended.