Questions are mounting after councillors backed a multi-million pound flood defence scheme in Northwich but controversially waved through 140 new houses in a high risk flood zone in Chester.
Furious Blacon councillor Reggie Jones is demanding council chief executive Steve Robinson investigates the contentious Chester decision which relates to a site occupied by playing fields, off Sealand Road, and is asking the public to bombard Tory MP Stephen Mosley with concerns.
Bark Street Investments must still get the final go-ahead from government because Sport England objected to the loss of pitches at the site and the move flies in the face of advice from the council’s professional planning experts about the risk of flooding.
But Labour member Cllr Jones is concerned every Tory member of the strategic planning committee voted in favour of the Clifton Drive plan which involves raising ground levels by up to six feet and includes a holding reservoir to prevent damage in the event of flooding.
And he is angry the plan also means building on sports pitches currently used by leaseholders University of Chester but previously with community access.
Committee members were convinced by a mitigation package, backed by Chester and District Football League (CDFL), that will make nearby ‘boggy’ council pitches usable and provide limited community access at university facilities.
Planning officer Paul Friston told the meeting the expensive flood prevention measures and a clause in the university lease giving it a percentage of the profits means the developer can’t afford to provide any affordable homes within the scheme.
Cllr Jones said: “It beggars belief that while the entire committee rightly backed a £4.6m flood defence scheme to protect Northwich town centre, every Tory on the committee decided to ignore all risks to life and property here in Chester by using their majority to push through a housing scheme in a high risk flood plain.
“To make matters worse, the scheme means concreting over playing fields that will be gone forever, just to provide a bumper pay day for not only the developer but its University of Chester partner, which does the university no credit whatsoever.
“The final blow is that the cost of this deal with the university and expensive measures to hold back the flood waters, means not a single affordable home will be provided in one of poorest areas of the city.
“The only hope is the government’s National Planning Casework Unit puts a stop to this reckless decision which goes against local and national policies. I urge residents and businesses to bring pressure to bear by contacting the council’s chief executive and city MP Stephen Mosley.”
Approval of this scheme will be of interest to developer Bloor Homes and Sealand Commercial Properties Limited who wish to build 150 homes on the other side of Clifton Drive, also in the flood plain, but will concern Sealand Road residents worried about where any flood waters will flow.
Such fears were raised at a planning inquiry where Bark Street unsuccessfully appealed the council’s rejection of its first application after the inspector cited the loss of playing fields. Bark Street lodged a judicial review over the outcome which had been put on hold pending Tuesday’s decision on its resubmission.
Cllr Alan McKie, who moved approval, said: “I’m keen to encourage sport, particularly in Blacon and Chester. I would listen to someone like Chester and District Football League. They actually deal with the young people and the people of Chester and Blacon in terms of representing them at football and they seem to be quite clear they have removed their objection to this.”
He was asked for planning reasons by development planning manager Fiona Hore given members were going against officer advice.
Cllr McKie responded: “I would look to our learned people for some assistance at this stage.”
Mrs Hore suggested the argument that the sports package of mitigation measures ‘outweighs the harm’ caused by the loss of playing fields and asked that she be allowed to draw up a suite of conditions for ratification at the next meeting.
Explaining the benefits of opening up university facilities, Adrian Lee, pro vice chancellor at the university, said in a recent statement: “The university enjoys close partnerships with a number of sports societies and clubs at local and national level and is now able to offer this increased, regulated and secure use of university facilities. Allied to what BSI is offering, it promises a more comprehensive and focused package for sport for the benefit of the wider community in Chester.”