A LEADING green group has slammed plans for 200 homes and employment premises on former hospital land.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England says the scheme, which could include as many as 80 low-cost houses, will undermine Green Belt policy at the Countess of Chester Health Park.
It fears the proposed development, which also earmarks 10,000sq m of land for employment use, may come at the expense of health provision.
The site comprises former West Cheshire Hospital buildings which will become redundant when staff move into the new Bowmere Unit suite this spring.
A draft development brief has now been drawn up for the land. It is subject to a Green Belt policy which allows the health trusts to expand by in-filling between buildings and redeveloping the existing 'footprint'.
Ann Jones, CPRE co-ordinator for the Chester District, said: 'We are very concerned that the special Green Belt policy for this land will be weakened by allowing development other than for the health needs on this site.
'This would limit and cramp the scope for meeting the long-term health needs of the community on this site.
'This could inevitably lead to the removal of Green Belt policy and invite free-for-all speculative development.'
Mrs Jones, who lives on Daleside, Upton, added that the brief included two additional plots of land outside the current footprint of buildings which might be developed in the future.
'There are a lot of congestion problems in the area as it is,' she said.
'This development would make them a lot worse.
'It is just unnecessary. There is an over-supply of employment land in Chester and an over-supply of housing. There are a lot of empty brownfield sites which have not been taken up.' The affordable homes are aimed at 'key workers' such as nurses and police officers, while the employment land is earmarked for specialist pharmaceutical, IT, or healthcare research use.
The land vacated will be transferred by the Department of Health to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and sold to private developers.
Proceeds from the sale will be used to help expand front-line NHS services.
As things stand, 50 of the homes provided would be classed as 'affordable' - the 25% stipulated in authority guidelines.
But moves are afoot to raise this to 40%, meaning 80 could be low-cost.
The development is part of a Government drive which will see similar sites across the country provide over 15,000 new homes, with at least 5,000 of them classed as 'affordable'.
Defending the proposals, Ged Taylor, chief executive of Cheshire West Primary Care Trust, said: 'The joint approach to this review process has ensured that we retain sufficient land to deliver efficient and modern health services to our local community.
'We are satisfied that we have secured a future for the Health Park that is properly suited to the healthcare needs of local people. nChester residents are invited to examine the brief at the Upton, Newton and Hoole Area Committee from 7pm on March 16.
An exhibition at the Countess of Chester Hospital's 1829 Building this week is being followed by displays at Morrisons supermarket, Bache, between March 5 and March 11, and at Chester City Council's Forum offices from March 21-April 4.
Comments on the draft brief should be sent to the authority by April 4, addressed to the Forward Planning Team, Chester City Council, The Forum, Chester CH1 2HS or e-mailed to: