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MP SAYS PLANNING POLICY HITTING COALFIELD REGENERATION

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Hansard, 11 Nov: Column 333 ...
Hansard, 11 Nov: Column 333

Rother Valley MP Kevin Barron criticised the handling of a planning application to build a leisure complex on the first 20 acres of a reclaimed site which will become part of an area of 800 acres of reclaimed opencast coal mine site.

The decision to reject the application from American cinema company AMC was taken by deputy prime minister John Prescott in line with his inspector's recommendations following a public inquiry.

Mr Barron said Rotherham MBC was working up a master plan for the whole site which may include business and industrial use, leisure, housing, a shopping centre, schools and open space - in effect, a new community. The inspector had concluded the proposed leisure development or merely the 24-screen cinema complex could be built on the edge of Sheffield or Rotherham city centres, provided there was flexibility or a willingness to have two sites. He was also concerned that most people would travel to the reclaimed Waverley site by car.

Mr Barron said proposals to begin the regeneration of a coalfield area were blocked by unclear planning guidelines, relating to out-of-town developments and intended to protect city centres, and on transport policies.

'We must recognise that leisure is the fastest growing industry in the United Kingdom. It is also the biggest. It is bigger than the whole of the manufacturing industry and it creates more jobs than any other sector - one in five new jobs created in the next 10 years will be in leisure and hospitality.

'If coalfield areas, such as the one I represent, are to be regenerated, they will need a share of that jobs market. However, they will not get a share if the town and city test is the only criterion applied. Coal mining jobs were lost not in towns or cities but in areas such as Rother Valley'.

He said John Prescott's words at the Labour party conference when he promised to put the heart back into pit communities, offering jobs and hope rang hollow with the Labour MP and his constituents who, a few days before, had lost a£30m inward investment package that would have created 570 jobs.

He asked environment minister Nick Raynsford to consider the difficult and perhaps uniqye problems of the coalfield areas and fully recognise the wider social and economic problems there, some of which could be addressed the flexible and sensitive application of planning guidelines.

Mr Raynsford replied that the criteria for assessing large out-of-centre leisure developments, such as that proposed for Waverley, include the likely harm to the strategy in the development plan, the impact on the vitality and viability of nearby town centres, accessibility by a choice of means of transport and overall travel patterns. Out-of-centre locations should be considered only when the development cannot be accomodated in town centre or edge-of-centre locations.

The minister said it would be wrong to suggest nothing was being done to support and regenerate the coalfield communities

'The deputy prime minister has given a high priority to assist those communities. The South Yorkshire coalfield areas have benefited from a wide range of regeneration activities, which have been undertaken with, for example, from English Partnerships and the single regeneration budget', he added.

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