A CONTROVERSIAL development plan that could see more than 800 new homes built on land south of Atherton town centre has been approved.

The town hall’s planning committee had initially deferred making a decision on the bid earlier in the year because of concerns over road safety at proposed access junctions and the location of an underground gas pipeline.

It received a green light on Tuesday with a majority vote although one councillor said it had been ‘the hardest decision’ of his political career.

Members said the borough currently not being able to show the required five year supply of housing land had been a factor in their decision process.

Meanwhile, since the previous meeting in July, the developer had provided additional information that had allayed many of their concerns.

Officers said both the layout of the access junctions and the location of the gas pipeline had been signed off by the highways authority, Transport for Greater Manchester and the pipeline operator, respectively.

Cllr Stephen Hellier, Labour member for Tyldesley, said: “I fully accept that residents have concerns, residents don’t like change, nobody ever does.”

“A lot of the residents present probably remember in 2014 when we had an application for a small part of this – off Bee Fold Lane – and the committee refused it and we felt we had good grounds to do that,” he added.

“It was appealed and the inquiry…in February 2015, the whole of that turned on the council not proving it has a five year supply of housing land available, that’s government policy.

“I remember saying at the time, in my view, if and when this comes back with a larger application, if policy hadn’t changed we would be hard pressed to refuse it. And policy hasn’t changed.”

The bid for the land south of Atherton included access from Leigh Road, Bee Fold Lane and Crab Tree Lane had received objections from MPs Jo Platt and Chris Green in addition to local representatives, the committee heard.

And residents had also voiced concerns that a spine road serving the development would later become part of an ‘Atherton bypass’.

Cllr John Harding, who represents the Atherleigh ward for Labour, said the application was ‘the hardest decision he has had to make’ since his election in 2016.

He added: “This is a large development and will take many years to deliver but it will ensure that the town benefits from further investment.

“My gut feeling is that I want to support the residents…by voting against, and that would be the easier decision to make and no doubt a popular one.

“But my role is not to always take the easy or popular decision but take those (decisions) that deliver long-term benefits.

“And so based on the additional information from the specialists in their fields (regarding the gas pipeline) and from our officers (on the road layouts), I feel I should vote in favour but with the caveat that the information and clarifications that all councillors have raised in this meeting will be implemented for the safety of Atherton residents.”

The committee voted by eight votes to one to approve the application.

Cllr Stuart Gerrard, who is an Independent member for Atherton, voted against the motion to approve and had earlier said both the Leigh Road junction and the section of road over the pipeline should be moved.

He said: “We’re missing out on an opportunity to alleviate congestion and to also put people’s lives first, without the potential of any accident that may happen.

“No-one on the committee is against the development of the houses, I just want to make sure that people’s lives aren’t put at risk, that would be my reasoning to object if they’re not willing to move that road.”

The developer, Tarleton Estates, has agreed section 106 contributions of £1.8m for additional primary school places, £950k for off-site highways works, £250k for on-site open space and £860k for off-site recreation and open space facilities.

Leader of Wigan council, councillor David Molyneux said in a statement after the meeting: “We are committed to enabling the building of 10,000 new homes within the borough over the next decade to match demand, especially among young families or first time buyers wanting to get onto the property ladder.

“Our ambition is to encourage more people to live and work in the borough and that starts by working with developers to produce quality housing.

“The application from Tarleton Estates will not only significantly contribute to delivering this, but also has benefits for local residents who use surrounding footpaths and the guided busway regularly.

“It is important that we support sustainable developments in the borough to match housing needs and support growth in our local economy.

“Good quality new housing along with improved transport links provides the right mix to keep our local economy growing.”