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What Was That All About? UK Government Surrenders In Super-Hot Logistics Planning Row

Tritax Symmetry’s plans for 1.4M SF at Symmetry Park Wigan

A year after they first called them in, and more than 18 months after local planners gave them the green light, UK ministers have approved 2.5M SF of new north west logistics development.

The approval, after 12 months of delay and doubt, has left many in the north west property business frustrated.

Announcements this week from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government cleared the final hurdle to development of Tritax Symmetry’s plans for 1.4M SF at Wigan and Harworth’s plans for 1.1M SF at Wingates Bolton.

Both schemes were frozen after the UK government intervened in the planning process in May 2020, a move that paused progress on four major schemes totalling 4M SF.

The decision letter supplied by the Ministry suggested that the Wingates scheme was selected for government intervention due to technicalities surrounding Bolton Council’s 2014 land allocation plan.

The 2014 document was “strictly inconsistent” with the National Planning Policy Framework “because it omits express reference to allowing inappropriate development in very special circumstances,” the decision letter said. This meant that the restrictive green belt policy limits of the NPPF now applied.

However, the letter went on to say that because there were cross-references in the 2014 plan to an earlier document that allowed for exceptions there was “clearly no intention of the part of the Council in practice” to impose such a tough limit on development. 

The debate seems to have been more substantive about Tritax Symmetry’s Wigan site. The entire site is in the Merseyside and Greater Manchester green belt. The Minister agreed that it was inappropriate green belt development. He agreed the scheme would “substantially erode the spatial openness of the green belt in this location” but that it would be moderate, and that building here would mean Wigan and Ashton would remain separate and distinguishable.

Tritax Symmetry’s 134-acre Symmetry Park Wigan was recommended for approval by Wigan Borough Council as long ago as January 2020.

“The decision to call in the scheme has inevitably caused delays and, given the strength of occupational demand, we will therefore press on immediately with the infrastructure works on-site to enable us to commence speculative construction of Phase 1 comprising 300K SF and deliver pre-lets,” Tritax Symmetry Planning Director Matt Claxton said.

At Bolton Wingates, Harworth Group has secured planning approval for the development of up to 1.1M SF of logistics and manufacturing space. The scheme originally received planning consent from Bolton Council in January 2020. Development work will begin next year.