Campaigners are dismayed the government is reopening an inquiry which previously recommended 142 homes should NOT be built on the Chester floodplain.
Greg Clark, then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, concluded Bark Street Investments’ housing plans must not go ahead at Clifton Drive playing fields off Sealand Road.
This was based on the recommendations of the inspector who presided over an inquiry held in Chester.
But Mr Clark’s decision was overturned by the High Court following a legal challenge by Bark Street.
Now his successor, Sajid Javid, has decided to reopen the inquiry according to a letter sent to interested parties including objectors such as Friends of North Chester Greenbelt.
Friends’ spokesman Andy Scargill is frustrated with the process but also with the University of Chester leaseholders who will profit from any deal in a saga that has led to the fields being unavailable to football and rugby teams.
He said: “The Friends of North Chester Greenbelt regret the fact that, despite the government’s National Planning Framework putting emphasis on promoting healthy living and taking regard to climate change where house building is concerned, the Secretary of State has still decided to reopen the inquiry into allowing Jersey-based developer Bark Street Investment Ltd to build houses on Clifton Drive Playing Fields on the River Dee floodplain.
“We are also disappointed that the University of Chester, whose playing fields they are, have remained neutral on this matter. We would hope that their new Chancellor Gyles Brandreth, as the former chairman of the National Playing Fields Association and a supporter of green spaces, might take a more active role in opposing this inappropriate development.
“As we have stated before, the land in question is Category 3 floodplain and should only be built on as a last resort. Cheshire West and Chester has an approved Local Plan which contains sufficient housing sites for the next 25 years and in the Chester area it is land by Wrexham Road which has been identified for this.”
He added: “Furthermore, the Chester area, as Sport England stated in their opposition, does not have enough playing fields for the population of the city."
Mr Scargill said the Bark Street case showed the government’s current planning laws were 'inadequate' when faced with 'speculative' developers 'with enough money'.
The successful Bark Street legal challenge was based on a change in circumstances referenced in a council officer report on a similar but unrelated 130-homes scheme targeting flood plain on the other side of Clifton Drive.
Legal advice in that case indicated alternative nearby sites, less prone to flooding, were no longer available to applicants Bloor Homes and Sealand Commercial Properties although the scheme ultimately failed the ‘exceptions test’ because on balance the project would cause more harm than good.
The High Court ruled this fresh information should have been taken into account by the Secretary of State in the Bark Street case.