Giant warehouse site was considered as a base for West Yorkshire Police

Talks about the “strategic significance” of farmland earmarked for a massive Amazon distribution centre were taking place almost three years ago.

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 10:30 am
The farmland near Cleckheaton that has been earmarked for a 'monstrous' warehouse believed to be for online giant Amazon

And while the site near junction 26 of the M62 at Scholes was set to be allocated for employment use, it was being considered for advanced manufacturing and precision engineering – as well as a potential base for West Yorkshire Police.

Local campaigners said the latest revelations illustrated a “contempt” for the public.

And Liberal Democrats said planners appeared to have opted for a scheme that lacked prestige, eschewing high-skilled jobs and apprenticeships to take “a distribution shed” that represented “the first thing on offer”.

An overview of the planned warehouse and distribution centre

It was revealed in June that the 59-acre site between Whitehall Road, Whitechapel Road and the motorway was being considered for a single warehouse and distribution centre.

It was described by critics as equivalent in height to an eight-storey tower block and the length of three full-size football pitches side-by-side.

Planning staff with Kirklees Council accepted that its scope “exceeds the development capacity” outlined in its Local Plan’s allocation document, but that it would contribute towards the council’s target of delivering 23,000 jobs by 2031.

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

The latest information has emerged via a Freedom of Information request. It shows the council was in discussions about potential uses of the land and how it would support the area’s economic strategy.

The authority said use of the site would fall within several classifications including B1b (research and development), B1c (light industry), B2 (general industrial) and B8 (storage and distribution).

A summary of a meeting held on July 24, 2018 included the comments: “It was recognised there was some potential for uses coming forward on part of the site not falling within the ‘B’ use class operations.

“However, these uses would be a departure from the plan, therefore such a departure would have to be justified.

“Material considerations could be job creation, potential to act as an enabler and must be an appropriate use that would not undermine the delivery of the intended primary operation of the site.”

At a meeting on November 21, 2018 between the council and the landowner it was acknowledged that West Yorkshire Police had “made an approach” for part of the site but had been advised that a developer “was being sought for the whole”.

Minutes of the meeting – which took place three months before the formal adoption of the Local Plan – show use of the site by the police was judged to be “not incompatible” with industry but that it would be a departure from the allocation.

The minutes added: “The council would therefore want to look carefully at the details if any developer proposal included police facilities.”

Senior Lib Dem councillor John Lawson, who represents Cleckheaton ward where the scheme sits, said it was to be expected that the council should be in discussion with potential developers over strategic sites.

But he argued that such talks required input from partners such as Highways England and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), a group of leading councillors and officers from West Yorkshire councils, plus York, that works on major infrastructure projects.

He said it was “still not clear” if those conversations took place and that the council had moved away from affording weight to manufacturing and precision engineering.

He added: “It looks like somewhere along the way all that was ditched.

“The current application for a distribution shed – a use often not seen as the best value development to have on former greenbelt sites – seems a long step away what was first imagined.

“Whitehall Road gained heightened strategic significance when other sites were cut from the plan. Why doesn’t the council recognise that and bring something with some prestige to the area?

“Research and development were also included in the list of possible uses. I know which I’d be encouraging to bring high-skilled jobs and apprenticeships to the Spen area.

“They seem to have poured pressure on themselves to take the first thing on offer.”

A spokesman for action group Save Our Spen, which is fighting the Amazon proposals, said: “This is just another example of the contempt Kirklees Council has for the public.

“They have continued to be in discussions with the landowners and other parties over developing the whole of this site in the knowledge that the planning inspector was reducing the site by over half.”

Kirklees Council was approached to comment.