GREEN belt campaigners are gearing up to fight what they see as "serious threats" to Chester’s protected countryside. They appear in a city council consultation on proposals for development which will affect communities up to 2021.
The town hall says it is preparing a strategy which will deal with the "key problems and challenges" facing the district in the future.
It will look at where future development should take place and at areas which should be protected.
A series of 11 options put forward for consultation range from continuing with current planning policies, with limited exceptions for affordable housing and regeneration, to eco villages and high economic growth.
The city council says that preserving the Green Belt may affect its ability, or that of the Cheshire West and Chester Council which takes over next April, to provide for longer-term growth.
Concentrating on urban regeneration and development in West Chester could see "reconfiguration" of the Sealand Road area, the building of the long-awaited Chester Western Relief Road and high density housing. At stake, however, is potential loss of Green Belt.
Another possibility is a "green swap" which would release Green Belt land to allow more building on both sides of the river, including family homes with, in return, access to new green spaces around the city.
In a dispersed development option, development in the city centre would be confined to regeneration and that in the rural area to key villages. No loss of Green Belt land would be involved.
A review of the Green Belt surrounding Chester could allow development with a high proportion of family homes in sustainable locations.
Green Belt land would be released in urban areas of the city but a broad swathe of additional space running across the district would be designated as a Green Belt to compensate.
An option for one or more carbon neutral eco villages in the rural area could lead to loss of Green Belt depending on their location.
Developing Chester as a sub-regional growth point could see new housing, affordable homes, shops, services and transport in suitable locations. Again, this could lead to loss of Green Belt depending on its location.
Green Belt could also disappear in the option for high economic growth which could see a second business park in Chester, the Chester Western Relief Road and further development at Saighton Camp.
An option to support key villages by allowing growth in surrounding hamlets and villages would not lead to any major loss of Green Belt although there could be potential development on Green Belt land.
CPRE planning coordinator for Chester district, Ann Jones, believes the option for development in West Chester between Blacon and Mollington, which would see the western relief road constructed from Blacon to the Chester Business Park, could leave vulnerable pockets of land in the Green Belt in the Lache and Westminster Park areas.
The proposals for dispersed development would see regeneration and renewal in the city and other urban areas with the main focus of new development in the existing larger villages outside the Green Belt, such as Tarvin, Kelsall, Tattenhall, Farndon and Malpas.
Under the option for a review of the Green Belt, the CPRE is fearful there would be a "large-scale release of Green Belt land to the north and south of Chester".
Green Belt boundaries would change near Mollington and at Upton near the Countess of Chester Health Park.
Development would be allowed from West Cheshire College and Westminster Park to the Southerly bypass (A55).
To compensate for this loss, the CPRE points out an area towards Tarvin, Kelsall, Milton Green and Churton is suggested for future designation as Green Belt.
Saighton Camp is identified for high economic growth and villages such as Elton, Farndon, Malpas and Tattenhall could be surrounded by new development in smaller hamlets and villages.
The CPRE comments: "It is not clear from the material that we have seen so far whether these options are intended to be mutually exclusive or whether the council envisages some mixture of two or more options.
"It is also unclear how they will be affected by the new West Cheshire and Chester Council, which will presumably need to consider a larger area including Ellesmere Port and Vale Royal, as well as Chester City Council’s boundaries."
Mrs Jones adds: "Despite these uncertainties, CPRE believes these options contain serious threats to both the Green Belt and the rural area and we intend to contribute strongly to the debate.
"Over the past 20 years, since the Chester Green Belt was adopted, successive Secretaries of State and planning inspectors have recognised the value of strong Green Belt policies to protect the nationally and internationally important and historic city of Chester.
"The Chester Green Belt has prevented the built-up part of Chester from spilling out into the countryside, preventing urban sprawl and safeguarding the surrounding countryside from encroachment.
"The Green Belt has also prevented the villages close to the built-up part of Chester, such as Christleton, Guilden Sutton, Mickle Trafford, Eccleston, Pulford and Mollington, from merging into the city.
"Similarly, it has prevented Chester merging with built-up areas of Ellesmere Port, Merseyside and North East Wales."
The CPRE argues the Green Belt also has another key function of preserving the setting and special character of the historic city.
Green Belt policy has encouraged the regeneration of neglected areas in Chester itself, argue campaigners, such as the Old Port and the canal corridor and has directed pressure for development away from greenfield land to the urban renaissance of city and town centres including Liverpool, Merseyside and Manchester.
The city council has been organising a number of events, workshops and travelling exhibitions across the district and is also making use of e-mail and websites to try to involve as many people as possible.
The council says that although the Cheshire West and Chester Council, which will see Chester merge with Ellesmere Port and Neston and Vale Royal, will have to prepare a series of planning documents for the new area, the consultation being carried out will play an important part.
The options are not intended to be specific and people are encouraged to put forward their views on the general possibilities.
At this stage all the options are open for consideration and no decisions have been taken on which might go forward.