A MASSIVE Home Bargains warehouse at the Omega scheme will be one of the most advanced distribution centres in the world, councillors were told as they gave the green light to the plans in the face of strong opposition.

The hybrid planning application for the 2,210,500 sq. ft development, which is on land to the west of Omega South in Bold, was approved by St Helens Borough Council’s planning committee on Tuesday night.

The proposals, which will see an 829,725 sq.ft logistics warehouse on green belt land, saw strong support from Labour, while all opposition councillors voted against the proposals.

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Parr Labour councillor Bisi Osundeko also rejected the scheme, telling members that she “could not in good conscience” support the plans.

The site at the heart of the proposals consists of 75 hectares of predominantly arable farmland, and will result in a permanent loss of woodland and trees totalling an area of 56,339 m2.

The development, which is land to the west of Omega South and south of the M62, also falls within the Bold Forest Area Action Plan boundary.

The plans have received strong objections from the public and several parish councils in St Helens and Warrington.

They have also seen objections from two St Helens councillors, one councillor from Warrington and a Warrington MP.

St Helens Star: A CGI image of how unit 1 will look at the Omega siteA CGI image of how unit 1 will look at the Omega site

Outline planning permission was also granted for a combination of manufacturing and logistics to the remaining application site.

A masterplan shows an indicative layout of three warehouse buildings, units 2, 3 and 4, which have no end user. 

Land to the east has also been earmarked for a potential expansion of unit 1.

Green Party councillor David O’Keefe, who represents the Bold ward, spoke at the meeting as one of the objectors, where he urged the committee to reject the plans.

Cllr O’Keefe said: “The outline planning application is still of a speculative nature and I contend that units 2, 3 and 4 of this application, after construction, will be sold for considerable sums of money for the sole benefit of the applicant.

“It is not the duty of the planning committee to give away green belt land for the benefit of a private company.”

Cllr O’Keefe also cast doubt over the job projections for the development, calling them “questionable”.

“The applicant describes this estimate as reasonable and conservative,” Cllr O’Keefe said.

“I think it belongs in the fantasy section of Chester Lane Library.”

The applicant, Omega St Helens Ltd/T.J. Morris Limited, argued that “very special circumstances” applied to the development due to the benefits it would bring.

Joe Morris, director of innovation at TJ Morris, told the committee that the scheme will deliver up 1,230 full time equivalent jobs once the warehouse is at 100 per cent operational capacity.

Mr Morris, who is the project manager for the automated distribution centre at Omega, insisted the projected jobs will be delivered.

“Staff figures have been collated by taking each individual element into account,” he said.

“We know and can forecast very accurately what and how many jobs will be needed and created. It is not a guess.

“I have worked the numbers out with my team. I can confirm they are real. I can confirm that they will be delivered.”

Mr Morris, who is the brother of billionaire businessman and Home Bargains founder Tom Morris, said the Omega scheme is “the most significant investment in our company’s history”.

He said it will enable the business to grow from 550 stores to more than 800 in six years, and without it, the company’s growth plans would be “put on hold”.

Mr Morris said the distribution site will house “one of the most advanced automated picking systems in the world”, which will cost around £150 million and take two years to install.

He said: “The highly automated warehouse means that many of the jobs to be created, as in a car assembly plant, will be highly skilled.

“Those highly skilled jobs include over 200 engineers and technical machine operators who will be responsible for round the clock maintenance and operation of the picking equipment.

“Based on a 100 per cent operational capacity we are projecting that up 1,230 full time equivalent jobs will be created.

“This will increase to over 1,400 full time equivalent jobs at peak periods such as Christmas.

“By the end of year one we are expecting to be at 40 per cent operational capacity.

“This will generate an average of nearly 700 full time equivalent jobs.”

Construction for the full application is estimated to take 16 months.

The applicant says there would be approximately 1,267 net construction workers jobs generated by the development, representing a net additional £76,421,800 gross value added (GVA) to the St Helens economy.

The applicant has also agreed to submit a local employment scheme for the operational phase the local planning authority.

TJ Morris will need to demonstrate how the development will use all reasonable endeavours to recruit at least 20 per cent of labour from within St Helens, focusing on the most deprived areas.

In addition, a contribution of £750,000 has been secured via a planning obligation to provide a bus service from St Helens to the Omega site.

Newton Labour councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron, cabinet member for reset and recovery, said this will open up Omega to St Helens residents.

St Helens Star: Plantation Wood, Booth Wood and parts of Duck Wood will be retained under the plansPlantation Wood, Booth Wood and parts of Duck Wood will be retained under the plans

“One of the things the application addresses, Warrington didn’t when they started Omega, was getting people from isolated towns and villages into that site, because the geography doesn’t really work very well,” he said.

“And now Warrington are only just putting in cycle routes out of Burtonwood whereas in this instance we’ve secured £750,000 to get a bus route to take residents from our borough on to that site.

“Now that doesn’t just mean they’ll get jobs at Home Bargains, it gives them access to the other six-and-a-half thousand jobs on that Omega site, which is fantastic for our residents.

“If Warrington want to be slow off the mark, we’ll fill them spots all day long with our residents.”

Cllr Gomez-Aspron also praised the £1.8 million offered to deliver a new ecological mitigation area, referred to as the ‘Green Wedge’.

This consists of a contribution of £1,696,800 secured via a planning contribution to carry out projects within St Helens to mitigate the loss of habitat.

An additional £180,000 has been secured to fund infrastructure projects within the Bold Forest Park Area such as Clock Face Country Park, Maypole Farm, Griffin Wood and the links between them.

Labour councillor Richard McCauley, cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said he was “blown away” by the benefits of the scheme.

However, numerous councillors felt the harm of the development was too great.

Labour councillor Bisi Osundeko expressed concerns over the job projections and the “fragmentation” of the natural habitat.

Cllr Osundeko said: “It is clearly stated that this development will result in habitat fragmentation. I am concerned about the impact this will have on the woodland biodiversity in the area.

“The countryside development and woodlands officer has also raised similar concerns over the loss of woodland as a result of this proposed site.”

She added: “I cannot in good conscience support this application and I really acknowledge members to refuse it.”

Cllr Allan Jones, leader of the St Helens Conservative group, asked how the UK was going to produce more homegrown food post-Brexit, if it was “constantly concreting over arable farmland”.

Green Party councillor David van der Burg, who represents Haydock, said he did not think the projected number of jobs justified the long list of harm that would be brought by the development.

Rainhill councillor James Tasker, leader of the Independents, also responded to earlier comments made by Cllr Gomez-Aspron about the site being formerly part of a massive air base.

St Helens Star: Cllr James Tasker, leader of The IndependentsCllr James Tasker, leader of The Independents

Cllr Tasker said: “It is true that down the road from this site, it was Burtonwood Air Base, which at one point was the largest air base in Europe.

“But this land in question was never part of that air base, and it’s never been developed.

“It’s always been green farmland and that’s what it currently is at the moment.

“The old perimeter fence used to actually stop just past this field, so it’s never been developed this area.”

Cllr Tasker said reason the area was placed in the green belt was to stop developments such as this from being proposed and passed by councillors.

Melanie Hale, the council’s service manager for development and building control, told the committee that special circumstances outweigh the harm to the green belt and outweigh any other harm.

She said the development will not comply with all aspects of the council’s development plan, but said very special circumstances do exist on balance.

Ms Hale said the Omega site is “deliverable, attractive to the market and would make an important contribution”.

She added that there is no single site within the urban area capable of delivering comparable benefits.

Ms Hale recommended that, provided the secretary does not wish to intervene following referral, planning permission be granted by the committee.

READ > Home Bargains warehouse at Omega site gets the go-ahead

This was also subject to a section 106 agreement to secure the funding for transport and various other conditions.

Labour councillors David Banks, Andy Bowden, Anthony Burns, Lynn Clarke, Seve Gomez-Aspron, Derek Long, Linda Maloney, Richard McCauley, Dennis McDonnell all voted in favour of the plans.

Allan Jones (Conservative), Janet Johnson (Labour), Bisi Osundeko (Labour), Geoff Pearl (Liberal Democrats), James Tasker (The Independents) and David van der Burg (Green Party) voted against.