Decision on controversial Loxley valley township plans 'will reverberate for years to come' says MP, as inquiry into future of beauty spot opens

“Any decision made on this case will reverberate for years to come,” Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam, said during the opening day of the long-awaited Loxley valley planning inquiry.

Work taking place in December 2019 to clear the former Hepworth site, where the new housing development was intended to be located. Picture: Steve Ellis

Dozens of people tuned in to watch the start of the inquiry into whether controversial plans for a township in one of Sheffield’s most picturesque locations should go ahead.

Patrick Properties’ plan for up to 300 new homes with associated development at the Hepworth refractory site in the Loxley valley were unanimously refused by Sheffield Council’s planning and highways committee last year but the developer appealed.

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Now, Martin Whitehead, who was appointed planning inspector for the case by the secretary of state, will consider all of the evidence over the next few weeks to determine if this was a fair decision.

Representing Sheffield Council, is Guy Williams and Chris Katkowski QC is representing Patrick Properties.

Andy Tickle is speaking on behalf of the Rule 6 party which consists of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Friends of the Loxley Valley. They believe it is the wrong solution for the area and are asking for the appeal to be dismissed. A community fund supported the Rule 6 party with more than £15,000 in contributions.

It is now the second week of proceedings. Round table discussions taking place during the inquiry focus on issues including supply of housing land, ecology and biodiversity, accessibility, contamination and planning and the green belt.

The inquiry is expected to last around 10 days in total, ending in early June but the planning inspector may take until later in the summer to announce his verdict.

Kicking off opening statements last week, Mr Katkowski responded to each of the council’s reasons for refusal and said: “The works closed a generation since, bequeathing a legacy of dereliction, asbestos and contamination. In its place we want to create a beautiful place for families to live, nestled in the wooded river valley. It would be a great shame to leave the site to rot.”

Mr Williams then outlined the council’s case.

Beginning his opening statement, Dr Tickle, on behalf of the Rule 6 party, said: “The Loxley valley is one of the jewels in the crown of Sheffield’s green belt, one of a series of beautiful green valley corridors that link suburban Sheffield to the Peak District National Park. Although rural in character, the valley has also been host to hundreds of years of industry, adding to its rich cultural history.

“Local people love the valley for its mix of natural beauty and heritage, as do visitors from near and afar.”

Others, including Ms Blake, local councillor Penny Baker and Robin Hughes of Hallamshire Historic Buildings also gave their views, as well as local residents, both those who were for and against the plans.

Ms Blake said: “The proposed development has been of huge concern for hundreds of Hallam constituents and I have had many constituents raise their concerns with me about this issue across all stages of the proposed development.”

She went on to say any decision is made on this case will “reverberate for years to come”.