Critics challenge council chiefs over giant Amazon warehouse near Cleckheaton

Council chiefs have been challenged to clarify how a massive Amazon warehouse set to be built at Scholes near Cleckheaton meets planning policy when it deviates from the borough’s controversial Local Plan.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 8:30 am
An artist's impression of the proposed giant warehouse near Cleckheaton

Now critics of the scheme – to be built on farmland between Whitehall Road, Whitechapel Road and the M62 – have questioned whether the scheme is even legal.

They have described the council, which has embraced the possibility of 1,500 jobs at the facility, as being “highly irresponsible”.

The site forms part of the council’s controversial Local Plan. And even though its scope “exceeds the development capacity” outlined in the Local Plan’s allocation document, it would contribute towards the council’s target of delivering 23,000 jobs by 2031.

An illustrative masterplan of how the proposed distribution centre near Cleckheaton could look. Image: ISG Retail Ltd (Bristol)

On that basis officers say the introduction of an employment facility on the site “is acceptable in principle”.

Spen Valley Civic Society has seen redacted correspondence between officers of Kirklees Council about the Amazon plan that says senior staff assumed the application from Bristol-based ISG Retail Ltd “will be in line with planning policy”.

But civic society treasurer Colin Berry said that response was “odd” and it failed to take note of concerns raised by planning inspector Katie Childs prior to the Local Plan being adopted in February 2019.

She required the developable area to be reduced by around 60 per cent – from 59 acres (or 24.57 hectares) to 26 acres (or 10.68 hectares).

She also advised that residential amenity would “need to be safeguarded through the sensitive siting of buildings and landscape buffer areas along Whitechapel Road” where existing homes would be just 50m from the facility.

Mr Berry said those elements do not form part of the plan as it stands and could undermine its legality.

In a direct appeal to senior officers – including chief executive Jacqui Gedman – he wrote: “The proposed building covers about 90 per cent of the total site area.

“The sizeable buffer area was intended to prevent traffic from entering the site from Whitechapel Road – your planning officers dispute this point, but I was there and know it to be the case.

“These failures to comply with the requirements of the Local Plan in respect of this site would seem to me, and most other people, but apparently not Kirklees planning department, to constitute a fundamental planning concern and possibly not legal given the status of the Local Plan.

“It is a betrayal of the purpose and meaning of the Local Plan. Kirklees Council is being highly irresponsible if it assumes it can choose to comply with the requirements of the Local Plan only when it fits with their wishes.”

Mr Berry said there appeared to be a reluctance to formally identify Amazon as the end user of the distribution centre.

He said: “Everybody around here believes it to be Amazon but why Amazon don’t want everyone to know that – and why the council are willing to go along with that – I don’t know.”

Batley and Spen MP Kim Leadbeater, who was elected last month, is backing residents who are against the plan.

She said: “I share the frustration of local residents that even now they haven’t been given all the relevant information about the planning application in Scholes.

“When I raised this in the House of Commons I specifically referred to the proposal to build a large Amazon warehouse and yet still neither Amazon nor the developers will confirm to me or the residents what the building will be used for.

“Unless there is proper transparency local people will rightly feel that the odds are stacked against them in having their views heard.”

The proposed warehouse would be a third of a kilometre long, 178m wide and 23m high. That’s equivalent in height to an eight-storey tower block and the length of three full-size football pitches side-by-side.

The Scholes site, which has been described as “absolutely monstrous”, is close to housing, a horticultural nursery, a golf course and a cemetery.

It has space earmarked on site for nearly 200 HGVs as well as 900 cars and vans leading to concerns that local routes will become clogged.