Cheshire Campaign to Protect Rural England

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District news : Autumn 2016

Friday, 21 October 2016 10:19

Old Dee Bridge in Chester Old Dee Bridge in Chester Photo: © Alex Loach, Creative Commons license

A round-up of news from our District Groups around Cheshire.

Cheshire East

The long-awaited Cheshire East Local Plan is now undergoing the ‘Examination in Public’ process, with sessions taking place in Congleton and Macclesfield Town Halls between 13th September and 21st October. Housing figures proposed by the council were revised upward from 29000 (which is already much higher than anything that has been achieved previously) to 36000: this is likely to necessitate the early release of ‘safeguarded’ sites in the North Cheshire Green Belt which were not supposed to be built on prior to 2030. Lillian Burns and Andrew Wood produced a response on behalf of CPRE Cheshire Branch.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s consultation on Part II of their Local Plan was live in August and September, and Andy Yuille kindly gave the Branch some assistance with preparing a response. Issues addressed included stressing the importance of the historic setting of Chester as a walled city, some issues to do with employment land (there has been a historic over-supply of employment land) and transport.

However, and most importantly, the omission of a detailed policy for Green Belt was noticeable. This is especially concerning in light of the role that Chester’s Green Belt plays in preventing the coalescence of settlements and preventing urban spread. As stated in the National Planning Policy Framework, ‘The essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence’.

If you would like more information on either of the above, please contact the Branch Office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Chester District

Mixed news for Chester’s Green Belt sites this month. Permission has been granted for 31 houses to be built on part of the Wrexham Road site that was released from the Green Belt in the Local Plan (Part 1). The permission was given in advance of there being an overall housing plan for the site as a whole. However, a planning application submitted by Ashton Heyes Nursery School which was for a new car park and extension to be built in the Green Belt outside the built up area of the village has been withdrawn.

 

Congleton District

Permission has already been granted for over 1200 new homes in Middlewich over seven sites, and construction is well established to the south of the town on a number of sites which were previously agricultural land in the Warmingham Lane area. Now another application has been submitted to build 500 homes and a new church building to the east of the town on open fields outside the town, on land owned by the Middlewich Community Church.

If successful, this will bring the total new housing stock for the town up to 1750 new homes with planning permission; in the 2011 census, there were just under 6000 dwellings in the town, so this number would mean an increase of 30% in the housing stock, with no improvement in public transport links for the town or extra infrastructure to ease the issues with school overcrowding and traffic problems in the town.

Middlewich remains the largest town in Cheshire without a railway station. The new proposed development is sited on land which straddles the Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester border.

 

Macclesfield District

The King’s School, Macclesfield, succeeded in reversing planning officers’ recommendation that the school’s expansion plan be rejected, ironically by increasing the contribution that they would give to the local council for additional school places in the town, as well as increasing the proportion of affordable housing included. The application was then passed by the planning committee on 27th July, and hopes that the application would be ‘called in’ were dashed in mid-September when it was announced that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, would abide by the council’s decision.

The proposal, which would see the school’s two sites united in a brand new building to be constructed on high grade agricultural land, will affect around 70 acres of open countryside in the Green Belt.

The school is currently based on two sites; the boys’ school is situated in the town centre, where it has been based since 1844, and the girls’ school site is on Fence Avenue. The school’s playing fields are located on Alderley Road in Prestbury, and this is the location which has now been approved as the school’s new site; a rural location, not only Green Belt land but also classified as an area of special county value. The tenant who previously farmed the land recently died, and this enabled the school to acquire the land and put in an application to build 450 new homes to finance the new school building, 300 of which would be on the Green Belt on Fence Avenue.

The site in question received the highest possible rating in the ARUP assessment of Green Belt land in Cheshire East. This study graded ‘parcels’ of land based on an assessment of the extent to which they fulfilled the five purposes of the Green Belt.

As well as being a site that currently acts as a buffer to prevent the coalescence of the settlements of Macclesfield and Prestbury, the development will necessitate the felling of mature trees and the grubbing out of historic hedgerows. It will increase the risk of flooding, is likely to cause congestion on unsuitable road networks (for which mitigation proposed is insufficient), and unlike the current site of the Boys’ School, it is not in a location served by public transport networks.

Three applications on the part of the school were passed only on the Chairman’s casting vote and the ‘Very Special Circumstances’ cited were to do with the need for educational facilities; this seems difficult to justify in light of the fact that the school is a fee-paying school which will not provide additional school places to the local community. The sum of £1,352,000 was requested from Kings School to provide additional school places for the children who will inhabit the new homes in the planning application, but Kings School offered less than half that amount (£550,000) and this figure has been accepted by the council.

 

Vale Royal District

Some good news from Vale Royal. An application to build 184 homes on greenfield site at Darnhall, which had previously been approved by the Inspector at appeal, was refused by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and further appeals were also disallowed. Despite the fact that the developer attempted to make the development more attractive by increasing the proportion of affordable housing in the development, and to employ local builders, the grounds for refusal were:

  • The extra affordable houses were not a significant increase especially as the development would spoil the rural aspect.
  • The use of local builders was unenforceable.
  • The development was not on the area for development in the neighbourhood plan (NP)
  • CWAC already had more than a 5 year housing supply.

This judgment makes encouraging reading for all those involved in neighbourhood planning in their own areas.

 

Warrington District

Warrington was designated a New Town in 1968. Both brownfield and undeveloped farmland were used. Some farmland in South Warrington was not used but could not be returned to the Green Belt at the Unitary Development Plan (UDP). The UDP Inspector did not put land at Peel Hall back into the Green Belt either. Since then these pieces of land were protected by a Regional Policy of regenerating city and town centres, and “brownfield before greenfield”.

The Core strategy report in 2014 had a annual figure of 500 new homes p.a. between 2006 and 2027. This and other issues were challenged in the High Court and the Council was supported on 6 of the 9 issues but it went against the Council on the housing figures. The council began to revise the figures so that they were on line with the ruling, and government policy.

This has produced a range of figures depending also on employment needs. These higher figures and housing land availability will soon be the subject of a consultation so look at the Planning Policy section on the Council website as well as information in the press.

We have a planning application ongoing for Peel Hall. Consultations by the Homes and Communities Agency or HCA, have started on land in South Warrington, in the Appleton area and Grappenhall Heys. If you have any comments on these please contact CPRE Cheshire Branch Office.

HS2 proposals through Warrington are still there, statement expected on the route by the end of November.

 

The Wirral Society

Wirral Borough will soon be part of the Liverpool City Region: the impact on planning matters in the borough is not yet known. It is possible that all planning decisions will need to be signed off by the elected Mayor of the City Region.

The Local Plan is still in progress and it may be many months before it is finalised, even if the process is not further delayed owing to changes resulting from the Borough’s inclusion in Liverpool City Region. The Society recently responded to another consultation on housing numbers to inform the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA). The Society employed Jackie Copley (Lancashire Branch’s Planning Officer) to assist them in responding to this consultation within a very tight timetable.

Readers will be familiar with the ongoing 15-year-long saga of the Hoylake Golf Resort. Developers have now begun to show an interest in the plans now that the council is “proposing” enabling housing on the site (which is in the Green Belt). Local pressure led to this issue being featured on Open Country (see p.8), and Andrew Needham outlined the planning issues and constraints that are relevant to Green Belt land. The revised Flood Risk map recently released by the Environment Agency highlights new risks to the area from flooding, and the development is also opposed on the grounds of the loss of Green Belt land, good agricultural land, wildlife habitats and the fact that golf as a sport is no longer as popular as it used to be.

The Society has also responded to the proposal to build a new fire station on Green Belt land at Saughall Massie, to replace the current station situated one mile away, from which the Fire Service has been working for the past 18 months. The ‘Very Special Circumstances’ cited include the fact that “the building has been designed to fit into the Green Belt”!

Over the (planning) border in Cheshire West and Chester, the planning committee approved an application for Vauxhall Sports Club to build 50 new affordable homes in order to provide funds to keep the club open and allow it to redevlop. In line with the Kings School application, the Secretary of State declined to call in the application despite the many concerns about the plans, and the detrimental impact on the openness of the Green Belt.

Neil Parry, Green Belt Co-ordinator, the Wirral Society

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Misty sunrise over the Trent and Mersey Canal, Middlewich