Campaigners have attacked Cheshire West and Chester Council for ignoring the views of more than 3,000 residents by giving the go-ahead for almost 1,600 houses on Ellesmere Port’s outskirts.
They have sent the authority a catalogue of criticism as part of a 3,000-word protest in which they describe the controversial decision as a ‘farce’.
Ledsham and Manor Action Group (L&MAG) co-chairmen Graham Penness and Graham Phipp believe planning permissions at Ledsham Road, Little Sutton, together with the inclusion of the land for housing in the borough’s draft local plan, raises concerns about ‘communication, consultation and democratic procedures’.
The council at first rejected plans by house builders Redrow for 2,000 homes on the green countryside on a unanimous vote. But a revised application for 1,570 properties was recently passed on a 5-2 vote.
The council has identified the site as capable of delivering up to 1,500 homes in its yet to be approved local plan, due to come into force next year. It has also recently accepted the borough does not have the five years’ housing supply it requires by law.
“We have many concerns about both the integrity and the lack of democracy in the way the council conducts its consultations with the public and the treatment of them and their responses,” the group argues.
“Over 3,200 local residents who supported L&MAG’s objection have been totally ignored. Localism clearly has no place in CWaC.”
They claim that in the early stages of the Redrow proposals in late 2011, ‘the council were clearly unwilling to discuss these with the local community when it was clear that such a development would have major consequences for the area as a whole’.
Hard copies of the application stretching to over 1,500 pages were not available, says the group, and ‘far more residents in the area should have been notified than were as it affected so many people in so many ways’.
The time given for consultation is said to have been a ‘farce’ as different notifications contained different dates.
The final decision was taken by a committee of councillors ‘unfamiliar with the site, with the problems that such a large development would present to existing residents and with all the information that we in L&MAG and hundreds of other local residents submitted’ adds the group.
It believes the council was unwilling to challenge Redrow’s consultants and ‘the whole planning process has been geared to getting this major site developed’.
The recommendation for approval is described as ‘incomprehensible’ while the decision to determine the resubmitted application in Chester, as opposed to Ellesmere Port, made it difficult for working residents to attend.
At the meeting, Tory chief whip Cllr Mark Williams (Dodleston and Huntington) successfully moved approval by arguing the plan was not premature, featured in the draft local plan and was sustainable. He was supported by the other four Conservative councillors on the committee.
But the group feels no valid reasons were given for the approval.
“Planning is supposed to be a non-political activity!” the group insists.
Officers’ advice the previous reasons for refusal would not stand up at any appeal ‘demonstrated their heavy one-sided advice for approval,” the chairmen claim.
On the draft local plan they feel ‘many of the very strong views expressed by local communities against the level of growth and resultant housing need required.... have been ignored without any public explanation’.
The land had ‘immediately’ been included in the draft plan following the rejection of the application for 2,000 homes on the farm.
“The council seem hell-bent on making our local community’s lives a misery for 20 years or more in the process destroying one of the most pleasant semi-rural areas in the borough to live in,” argues the group.
“This view on lack of democracy is shared by many communities within the borough.
“All have similar experiences with their views about their local community’s development being ignored.”
It claims the council refused to have a presentation meeting with the community specifically over the development of the Ledsham Road site and its inclusion in the draft plan and only offered two one-day mainly afternoon drop-in sessions.
It believes the ‘complexity’ of responding to the council on the draft plan‘ simply put many residents off from submitting anything at all’.
The complaint concludes: “December 5, 2013 was a bad day for the residents of Little Sutton and the Green Lane area of Great Sutton, democracy in general and the local authority’s planning processes.
“It was a bad day for democracy as the views of local residents have been totally ignored.
“The local authority have shown scant regard for their views on their neighbourhood development, their values and the impact on their quality of life and ignored totally L&MAG’s measured and well argued points.
“It was a bad day for the local authority’s planning process as it has shown they are prepared to ignore all the major environmental impact problems that this development will create, not least the increased traffic problems for existing and new residents and through commuters and have placed no value whatsoever on the preservation of high quality farmland and essential green space.
“They are clearly willing to risk the very real problems of flooding and drainage and subject the local community to over 20 years of disruption.
“All of this whilst many brownfield sites exist to adequately meet the local housing need.”
The group is calling for ‘the conduct, integrity, and motives of all council officers and elected councillors involved in the whole process of the three planning applications relating to the Ledsham Road site and their involvement in the draft local plan be thoroughly investigated’.
The complaint, to the council’s solutions team at HQ in Chester, has been copied to Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP and Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Andrew Miller.