When London property developers promised thousands of new jobs in a former pit village on Merseyside, the local council eagerly backed the scheme.
Two years on, residents who opposed the Amazon warehouse plans are warning others of the huge expansion of the online giant as they mourn the loss of green belt – while still awaiting the 2,500 jobs promised.
The huge “Sortation” centre built at Florida Farm in Haydock, near St Helens, is just one of a number of massive developments planned or already operated by Amazon, undergoing a huge expansion on the back of the massive surge in online sales during the pandemic lockdowns.
Further Amazon expansion includes sites at Stockton in the North East, Ferriby, near Hull and a “Mega Shed” in Dartford, Kent, set to be among the largest warehouses in Europe.
But retired solicitor Paul Parkinson, from Haydock, told the PA news agency the Amazon warehouse, built by developers Bericote, had brought few jobs for locals and, “chaos” to the area.
Bericote had claimed at planning meetings the scheme, built on farmland, would bring anything between 2,500 and 5,000 jobs, and employment opportunities was the justification for concreting over green belt land.
The original Jackanory……. pic.twitter.com/IrLO5NWWlQ— Paul Hooton for Haydock (@PaulHooton5) April 28, 2021
New sports pitches were also promised for local rugby league and football teams.
None of it, so far, has materialised.
Job figures are disputed, with the total new jobs created thought to be around 300. Neither Amazon, nor St Helens Council has provided figures.
Mr Parkinson, who led a campaign of 2,000 locals objecting to the development, claimed St Helens Council have been “taken to the cleaners” with the jobs boom not materialising and locals left to deal with problems associated with the site.
He said: “Was the creation of two, three hundred jobs worth the destruction of 60-plus acres of green belt? It’s a very poor return.”
The 360,000 sq ft ‘Sortation’ centre opened in Haydock in October 2019 and a second, 525,000 sq ft warehouse at the site, operated by cereals firm Kelloggs, has also now opened, which employs around 70 people.
Locals say they are now suffering the effects of having hundreds of lorries going to and from the site each day.
This includes drivers parking in residential areas and using the outdoors as a public toilet.
Found next to the attenuation ponds @AmazonUK @KelloggsUKI @TritaxBigBox you need another word with your carriers #floridafarm absolute disgrace. @StHelensEnviro @sthelenscouncil @Sueforster1 @PaulHooton5 @Waxwing2014 pic.twitter.com/X7GrFAPea9— Residents Against The Florida Farm Developments 💚 (@RVFFD) January 17, 2021
Mr Parkinson added: “They drop off the trailer. They go elsewhere and park up.
“There’s bottles of urine left behind or they go up against someone’s garden fence or go in the trees.
“There’s spaces for 200 lorries (on site) but it’s never used.
“This is the biggest planning application St Helens has had to deal with. And they were taken to the cleaners. It stinks.”
Drivers, often foreign, also often get lost and end up driving juggernauts through nearby housing estates.
In one instance, caught on camera by a resident, a lost HGV driver from Hungary, attempted a three-point turn, demolishing a garden wall while reversing.
Restrictions on Haydock Lane South are needed as a matter of urgency. This could’ve been a very different story had someone been killed. Is that what it will take?? #residential #schoolroute @councillordvdb @MartinBond022 @KendrickLomarr @sthelensstar pic.twitter.com/sHjwKj444l— Residents Against The Florida Farm Developments 💚 (@RVFFD) October 21, 2019
Amazon said it does provide facilities, including toilets, to drivers.
In a statement Amazon said: “We have informed our carrier partners about the concerns raised and continue to reinforce this and remind them of the correct driver behaviour guidelines.”
Labour-run St Helens Borough Council did not give job figures but said a planning application had been submitted for an upgrade and redevelopment to a local park, home to amateur rugby league and football teams, with “funding in part” coming from Bericote. No figure for the developer’s contribution was provided.
A statement said the council “understands” issues with the site but they had to look at the overall impact.
It added: “The businesses on this site have brought much needed jobs to our borough.”
“The natural habitats provide the opportunity to sit and rest in a natural environment. Management of the retained woodland will enhance value to native flora and provide a quiet place to walk” -Bericote 2016. Below, the reality 2021. pic.twitter.com/NoIMl9ihH0— Residents Against The Florida Farm Developments 💚 (@RVFFD) January 30, 2021
Dispute about the economic benefits of the scheme could lead to political consequences with the Green Party campaigning heavily in local wards ahead of local elections.
Local resident Kev Bailey warned other communities facing new developments to be wary of claims made about job creation.
He said: “Where are the jobs in Haydock? How has the community benefited? Where are the sports facilities? The site has been open for two years now.
“The spin is unbelievable. St Helens Council is run by muppets.”
PA contacted Bericote, who boast of an approach of “co-operation and transparency,” but received no response.
A tweet from earlier today.— Residents Against The Florida Farm Developments 💚 (@RVFFD) April 28, 2021
This isn’t in this Councillors Ward so why does he feel compelled to comment? Where do these numbers come from, Jackanory? It isn’t the 2,500-5,000 jobs promised for this development. Fact. pic.twitter.com/LCdbuRHYAa
There was also no response from councillor Sev Gomez-Aspron, a vocal supporter of the scheme and deputy leader of the council, or local MP Conor McGinn.
Voters go to the polls on Thursday.