A community leader said a massive student housing scheme would ‘stick out like a sore thumb’ at a hearing that will determine whether the development should be allowed on appeal.
Cllr Jill Houlbrook (Con, Upton) was addressing inspector Andrew McGlone about the proposed eight storey 376-bed complex earmarked for a railway station car park in Hoole Way, Newtown, refused by the council against officer advice.
Mr McGlone will consider issues such as the impact of the tall block on the living conditions of neighbours, especially residents of Black Diamond Park with respect to loss of light and privacy and disturbance.
Cllr Houlbrook said: “As you will see, the reason the city voted to refuse the application and certainly when it was considering it, I felt and the committee felt that the building was overly dominant in the street scene. I think that’s the nub of the matter. It would stick out like a sore thumb.”
Cllr Alex Black (Lab, Hoole), who chairs the planning committee, agreed: “The other buildings surrounding are much lower than the proposed building. They seem to be more horizontal in nature than the vertical nature of the proposed building.”
Cheshire West and Chester Council leader and ward member Cllr Samantha Dixon (Lab, Chester City) told the hearing the proposed block was ‘very dominant’, adding there were ‘many shortcomings’ raised about the scheme at the planning committee.
Resident Emma Hardiman, of Black Diamond Street, said the prominent building on a major gateway into the city would present Chester to the world as ‘a student city’ instead of ‘a heritage city'.
“It’s just going to become, if this is approved, a very student defined area,” she said.
Mr McGlone also heard from the developer, PJ Properties (Chester) Ltd, during the informal hearing at Northgate Arena on Tuesday, in the shadow of an under-construction 150-bed student housing scheme allowed on appeal in a separate case.
Anthony Gill QC, responding for the appellant, said the council’s own characterisation study showed the area was in need of improvement which he believed would be brought about by the student housing.
He continued: “As you come over that bridge, you see the backdrop of historic Chester and three residential tower blocks in the middle of it. This building, which we think is a considerate and deliberate approach to design – one of the things it does is hide two of them which can only be of benefit, frankly, in the particular experience of that area.”
Architect Tony Catherall said the design had been ‘continually developed’ over a year in response to feedback.
He commented: “In terms of architectural design, treatment of the elevations, the first thing to stress is that the whole process was a series of meetings, dialogue, collaboration with the planning officers and the Chester Design Panel.”
Talking about the scale and massing of the building, he said council planners wanted a landmark tower feature at the junction away from residents, in the form of a limited section of top floor, but the ‘bulk of the building has horizontality’. The overall height was reduced in response to Chester Design Panel by compressing the floor height and the building ‘pushed slightly into ground’ with lower ground floor.
Three variants were put forward to council officers who preferred the version with the tallest corner feature but it was ‘still lower’ than an office scheme previously granted permission on the same site but never developed.
The inspector’s decision, expected in the next few weeks, will be posted online. Main issues to consider are the effect on the character and appearance of the area, the impact on the living conditions of neighbours, car parking, pedestrian safety, whether there is a need for student accommodation, waste and sewage and a comparison with the office scheme previously allowed.