A major plan to boost links between Wigan and Bolton while creating thousands of new homes in the next 17 years has been approved.

Wigan Council gave the thumbs-up to Greater Manchester’s final Places for Everyone (PfE) draft at a meeting on Wednesday.

The PfE plan sets out strategic employment, residential and transport infrastructure targets across nine of the city region’s boroughs from 2022 to 2039.

Councils across the city region have until March 21 to adopt the plan as the strategy which will inform their local plans which have a major bearing on planning decisions.

As well as earmarking sites for a total of 16,527 new homes in Wigan it also sets out an approach to boosting economic competitiveness in the northern districts of Greater Manchester, including focusing on town centres, brownfield land regeneration and strategic improvements to transport connectivity.

A key part of this is the Wigan-Bolton Growth Corridor as a ‘regionally significant area of economic and residential development’.

This includes a potential to build a link road between Junction 25 of the M6 and Junction 5 of the M61 at Westhoughton, with congestion between Wigan and Bolton seen as one of the major obstacles to growth in the north of Greater Manchester. Rail and bus links will also be improved.

However, adoption of the plan means development sites at Junction 25 of the M6 (employment), on land north of Mosley Common (housing) and land west of Gibfield in Atherton (housing and employment) are removed from the Green Belt.

A report to the council by director of place Aiden Thatcher pointed out that a large proportion of the allocation at the M6 junction had already been given planning permission, and likewise Mosley Common where 1,100 homes are planned, subject to a referral of the PfE plan to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up Housing and Communities Michael Gove.

“The overall impact of these changes is that 55.7 per cent of the borough will remain within the Green Belt – a minimal reduction from the existing 56.6pc,” Mr Thatcher’s report said.

The plan also allocates land at Pocket Nook in Lowton for 500 homes and nearly half a million square feet of employment floor space, but this is not within the Green Belt.

Proposing acceptance of the plan, Wigan’s portfolio leader for planning, environmental services and transport Coun Paul Prescott said: “The PfE plan has been 10 years in the making. The Government has threatened to take over planning authorities which don’t have a plan.

“It is significant because it provides certainty to people who want to invest in the brought.

“It also gives certainty to our residents and gives confidence that decisions will be made with openness and transparency.”

He pointed out that only 0.9pc of Green Belt land would lost as a result of acceptance of the plan.

But Independent Network Coun James Watson cast doubt as to whether the link road between the M62 and M6 would materialise.

“This wishy-washy policy will have a detrimental impact on the borough,” he said. “We do not want a concrete jungle taking the place of our green space. This will create more congestion on our roads.”

And Independents Together Coun Steve Jones alluded to Stockport council’s decision to become the only Greater Manchester authority to exclude itself from the PfE plan.

 He said: “I’ve got to take my hat off to Stockport for standing up to [Greater Manchester Metro mayor] Andy Burnham.

“How can we say this is protecting Green Belt? What we need more than anything in Wigan is more social housing. Stockport council listened to their residents.”

But Labour council leader Coun David Molyneux responded: “What we are trying to do is protect what we want to deliver. This is about housing across the board. People need a [full] range of housing. 

“This is about giving young people a future. And as far as protecting the Green Belt Wigan as an authority is second to none in Greater Manchester.”

And he told the Independent groups: “You need to support this plan if you want to protect the borough.”

At the conclusion of the debate, the council approved acceptance of the plan.