An administrative mix-up left members of the public disgruntled after a planning inquiry had to be postponed because the legal site notice had not been posted in time.
A two-day inquiry had been due to take place in Chester’s Quaker Meeting House concerning Miller Developments’ 350-bed student accommodation scheme next to Telford’s Warehouse at Tower Wharf after councillors rejected the application but the developer appealed.
However, the packed room of barristers and 25 members of the public had to leave the room after just 45 minutes when it emerged the site notice informing the public of the inquiry had not been in place for the required 14 days.
Anthony Gill QC, for the appellant, told inspector Roger Pritchard correspondence had been sent to Cheshire West and Chester Council asking them to put the notice up.
Planning officer Nick Howard said a site notice had been posted but only last Tuesday.
Both sides agreed that just seven days’ notice would put the inquiry in breach of procedures meaning any decision would be unsafe and subject to challenge.
The inspector, who apologised to members of the public, explained: “It appears the correct letters were sent to the planning authority and were sent in time asking them to do so but for some reason or other it was not done within the 14-day time limit.”
Mr Pritchard does not expect the inquiry to be reconvened until the new year at the earliest.
Rachel Dison, a resident of Garden Quarter, who had been due to offer evidence against the scheme, said postponement of the inquiry would lead to a ‘continuation of stress’ for the community.
She added: “I have taken two days off work to attend and other people have given up their time. If we are not able to attend in future, what will happen?”
In a side issue, concerns were raised about the cramped conditions in the small room given the level of interest in the case, with insufficient seats and no public address system, making some speakers barely audible.
At one stage, the inspector joked: “ I shall end up sitting on the desk! Never mind.”
Resident Chas Warwood said afterwards: “If the council can’t even plan a meeting what chance have they got planning a city.”
The inspector said more than 100 representations had been received, predominantly in opposition to the scheme.
A Cheshire West and Chester Council spokesman said in a statement: “Erecting site notices is the responsibility of the developer, not the council.
“However, on this occasion, the Planning Inspectorate asked the council to erect the notices as the developer’s office is located some distance from Chester.
“Unfortunately, this request was not received by the council in sufficient time to allow for a 14-day display period.
“Consequently, the inspector decided to postpone the inquiry.”
University of Chester fears student accommodation shortages because only one large scheme is currently being built
The University of Chester fears ‘student accommodation shortages’ because only one big housing scheme will be ready for autumn 2015.
A recent submission to Cheshire West and Chester Council forecasts between 3,000 and 4,300 scholars will be seeking private sector accommodation in the city by September 2016.
And it warns: “There is continuing uncertainty about whether some student residential schemes that have been approved will actually commence in the next six months, compounded by the unresolved appeal over Tower Wharf. This creates a prospect of student accommodation shortages. The only scheme that will be ready for the autumn of 2015 is the Watkin Jones development near the railway station c. 400-bed spaces.”
Simon Edwards, of William Fishwick and Son Ltd, said his firm was awaiting the ‘release of conditions’ after receiving approval on appeal to build two blocks for 121 students in Upper Northgate Street.
Last December Chester Race Company and its London-based partners Stephenson Group gained consent for a £35m complex for 550 students on Linenhall car park.
But race company chief executive Richard Thomas said The Stephenson Group was still in negotiations with the university over a ‘deal’ on the project. “Between that and the funders we are still waiting to hear,” he said. “I don’t anticipate any issues.”
In the new year an appeal will be heard in relation to Miller Developments’ 350-bed scheme next to Telford’s Warehouse.
However, work is under way to convert Chronicle House, the former headquarters of the Chester Chronicle, into 62 ‘luxury’ student rooms.
And Helen Guy, marketing manager for Fresh Student Living, who will run the large Watkin Jones scheme, said it would open in September next year.
She said: “Tramways is a brand new development of 387 en suite rooms and 11 self contained studios. At Tramways there’s also a fantastic social space and both our schemes have a planned calendar of regular social events to engage our students in new, exciting activities.
“With an on-site accommodation team working at each site, we take pride in the service and support we offer to our students and we work closely with the local university to ensure that students are provided with pastoral care and a signposting service as and when required.
“All bills are included in the students’ weekly rent, along with free contents insurance and internet services.”
Fresh Living already operates the popular 128-bed Abbeygate complex on Victoria Road.
For more information visit: www.freshstudentliving.co.uk/chester.