A new housing estate has been proposed for a wedge of land in Widnes between an industrial estate and the Liverpool-Manchester railway line.
With the plans due to be discussed by Halton Council next Monday, the Local Democracy Reporting Service went to Tan House Lane to see what any future residents would have to deal with.
The former ICI site resembles a westward-pointing arrow, starting at Tan House Lane and narrowing to a point by Earle Road and The Hive leisure park.
At the moment, the site itself looks bleak, with mounds of soil and large puddles of water littering the area where homes coudl be built as contractors work to decontaminate the land.
To the north is a scrapyard, while stretching out to the east are factories and, in the distance, the Fiddlers Ferry power plant.
Standing by the edge of the site, it feels disconnected from the rest of the world, cut off by the industrial estate, a dual carriageway and the river.
To the north and east is the industrial estate while to the south is the railway line, the St Helens Canal and, eventually, the Mersey.
Heading west is Widnes town centre, but to get there residents will have to go through The Hive – the only non-industrial site next to the proposed estate – and then cross the busy dual carriageway before reaching the superstores of Lugsdale Road and Green Oaks Way and then, a little further, the town centre itself.
All this means it’s a good 20-minute walk to the nearest supermarket, or a shorter drive on mostly small roads around the industrial estate.
The nearest primary school, St John Fisher, is a 20-minute walk through the industrial estate, while the nearest high schools are across the dual carriageway and up towards Widnes station.
How noisy is it?
Approaching the site from the west on a Monday afternoon, the site is fairly quiet. There is little traffic from the leisure park and few people using the footpath that runs from Queensway to Tan House Lane along the north edge of the site.
But walking east along that path towards the cooling towers of Fiddlers Ferry in the distance, there is an increasingly audible rumbling in the background.
The main source of the rumbling is the ICoNiChem chemical plant about 200 yards down Moss Bank Road. It isn’t an overpowering noise, but by the time you reach the eastern edge of the proposed housing estate it is clearly audible – the kind of sound that might sit on the edge of your hearing and refuse to be tuned out as it carries on all day, every day.
If you lived at the eastern end of the site and opened your window, perhaps to keep cool, you certainly would be able to hear it, punctuated by the HGVs that drive to and from the units on the industrial estate.
‘I wouldn’t live here’
But it is neither the noise nor the distance from the town centre that would bother one of the few passersby about the prospect of living on this site. Instead, she was worried about contaminated soil from the site’s former existence as a chemical plant.
The passerby, a dog walker who declined to give her name, said: “I wouldn’t live there. I’m old now, but if I was young I would think very carefully before I moved there, especially if it was contaminated and if I was bringing up young children.
“We’ve moved nearby recently, to the other side of the industrial estate, and we’re very happy, but I wouldn’t live here.”
Work is already being carried out to decontaminate the land, and the report by Halton Council raises no concerns about the quality of that work, save for suggesting a planning condition that the developers provide a report verifying the land is no longer contaminated before construction begins.
However, for some, even that might not be enough to persuade them that it is safe to move in.
In its planning application, Mulbury Homes described the site as “highly sustainable”, adding: “The proposal will ensure that this previously developed site is brought back into use with a development that will improve the appearance of the existing site and will enhance the surrounding area.
“The proposals will deliver a high-quality residential development, which will create a range of housing sizes to meet local need, areas of open space, affordable housing, and pedestrian/cycle routes and connections.”
Halton Council’s development control committee meets on November 4 to discuss the application.
However, officers have recommended councillors do not make a final decision on the plans, but instead record their views and then leave it up to the head of planning and the committee chairman to approve or reject the scheme.
The report prepared ahead of the meeting states that the noise problems can be mitigated and is generally in favour of approving the plans, subject to certain conditions.
But if the plans are approved and the noise problems persist, it could spell difficulty for ICoNiChem and its neighbour, Unifrax, should the council find that noise from their operations is disturbing residents.
The businesses have warned that in that case, they may have to simply leave the area, taking around 100 jobs with them.