Plans to build 30 new affordable homes on a much-loved field in the heart of an estate are dividing a community.
The proposals would see rental housing ‘for local people’ built off Borrowdale Road, in Langley, Middleton. The land is known locally as ‘The Ponderosa’ – also an old colloquial name for Langley itself.
The project is being driven by Big Help Langley Developments – a community interest company formed by Langley Community Benefits Society and charity The Big Help.
West Middleton councillor Sue Smith – a founder member of the benefits society – has been instrumental in bringing the partnership together, and says the area is crying out for social housing.
But some locals insist The Ponderosa – used for community events and popular with dog walkers and children – is not the place for them. Objectors have formed The Ponderosa Committee to push back against the plans while Facebook group ‘Commoners Save the Ponderosa, Langley’ has just shy of 1,000 members.
As well as opposing loss of the green space, there also appears to be an air of distrust among some residents, who question how affordable the homes will be, how they can be prioritised for Langley people and who will ultimately benefit from the scheme.
Others express dissatisfaction with the consultation process so far, saying it has been dismissive of dissenting voices and not inclusive of the whole community.
Councillor Smith, however, says people across Langley and Middleton have complained to her for years about the lack of social housing for local people – and many are ‘very much in favour of the proposed scheme and support what will be enhanced green space with social housing’.
“Far too often, people tell me their family members had to move away from Middleton because they can’t get social housing locally,” she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“I also get lots of people contacting me on a daily basis for my help in finding them an affordable home. I also hear this every time I knock on doors on Langley as a councillor.”
Councillor Smith says she recognises that some people are not in favour of the scheme, but claims the proposed new homes would only take up about a quarter of the site.
“The rest of the site would be enhanced and improved by the proposed scheme with landscaping, a sensory garden for disabled people and we will be applying to the Groundwork Trust to work with children and young people on the site to enhance it so local people can use it more,” she added.
She also says that – contrary to some ‘misleading statements’ the land is owned by Big Help Langley company, nor has it been gifted to the company or herself for £1.
“The land is owned by Rochdale Council and the company will need to negotiate for the land just like anyone else,” she said. “As a councillor myself, I will keep out of any such negotiations and will declare an interest as required by law.
She adds that none of the company stakeholders or their family members would be allocated any of the homes, while the lettings policy would prioritise Langley people ‘as they are the ones currently struggling to find social housing. Langley people will always get a priority’.
But The Ponderosa Committee believes the field is simply too valuable for the community to lose – regardless of who they are for.
“We as a community use this land daily, old and young from all nationalities have formed friendships here when children are playing and dog walking,” a spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“Lots of children play on this field. It is safe from traffic as all roads in the area are congested, this is a peaceful environment where children can play safely.”
The committee claims there have been attempts to ‘shame’ residents for not wanting houses on the land.
However the group says it believes everyone deserves a home – but there are more appropriate sites that could be used – such as Durnford school – ‘enabling the community to have open green space in an urban area.
“This land has been untouched, we have wildlife that inhabits the land and it is beautiful, especially in full bloom,” the committee spokesperson continued.
“Some members of our committee suffer with their mental health and use this area to walk and clear their thoughts, again they have been singled out on social media for expressing this.”
The committee says there is already building all over Langley – and it doesn’t want homes on The Ponderosa on any terms.
“In this current cost of living crisis spaces like this are needed for our children now more than ever,” a spokesperson added. “Not everyone can afford expensive days out or holidays. Local open spaces allow children the freedom to play and make lifelong childhood memories.”
The committee adds that Langley has already undergone much development in recent years, with Borrowdale Road seeing increased traffic to accommodate the recent builds and access to properties.
This they link to rat infestations and increased water runoff – as well as discoloured water coming through their taps. “We believe the number of new builds in the area has contributed to the pipes being unable to withstand the extra supply,” a spokesperson added.”
Councillor Smith has promised that more consultation will follow before any planning application will be submitted to the council for consideration.
The council remains the owner of the land.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service has asked the local authority whether it has ever allocated any money to the project – including for surveys or other pre-planning application work – either via township money, grants or other means.
A council spokesperson said: “We routinely review potential sites for the development of affordable housing. This is something all councils do on an ongoing basis and is part of our wider statutory obligations as a local authority.
“As part of this work, the council has funded initial surveys from external agencies to look at the potential of the Borrowdale Road site, which is owned by the council. If this site was to be transferred out of council ownership at any point in the future, this would be subject to a formal decision-making process, in line with the council’s democratic processes.
“If any proposals for housing were to come forward for this site at a future date, the applicant would be required to submit a full planning application, which would be considered in the same way that all planning applications are.”
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporting Service