Labour councillors blocked a 54-homes planning application that opponents feared would ruin the character of their hamlet but supporters claimed would sustain its future.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategic planning committee split along party lines in rejecting housing in the open countryside off Holywell Lane at Clutton that would have also funded a school extension.
The Tories, who had backed the proposal against planning officer advice, were outnumbered on what is supposed to be a non-political committee. However, delighted opponents said afterwards the change from a Tory to Labour-led administration had made all the difference.
Residents’ representative Steve Jones told the meeting 90% of villagers were against the application which would ‘almost double the footprint’ of Clutton putting ‘a suburban development in the heart of the Cheshire countryside’ with limited access to services.
‘The character of the hamlet would be lost forever,’ said Mr Jones, who also raised concerns around the extra traffic movements that would be generated.
But Amanda Robinson, chair of governors at Clutton CE Primary School, said the expansion of the Ofsted-rated ‘outstanding’ school was vital to the sustainability of the village.
She explained: “We need a new classroom to accommodate the nursery and reception children who are currently taught in the school hall because of a lack of teaching space. The hall is not fit for purpose as a classroom.
“In addition, this prevents us from offering full time nursery provision. The government’s new 30-hour free nursery provision is a concern for us. Without this extension it will be impossible to offer this to prospective parents and children.”
Peter Mitchell, vice chairman of Coddington Parish Council and a parish councillor for Clutton, said members were strongly against the plans.
Mr Mitchell, who is also a governor at the school, said: “Our objection is principally that this development will irrevocably and detrimentally change the character of the village, offering no overall benefit.
“It’s my and the parish council’s belief that the proposed housing development is not the price the community should pay to meet a school’s aspirations.”
Kerren Phillips, for applicants CJ Studley & Ladson Commercial, argued the material considerations weighing in favour of the plan were ‘significant investments’ in the school expansion and a car park to alleviate the ‘nuisance’ of on street parking, as well as highway improvements.
The scheme also involved moving a farm, allowing it to grow, while removing the buildings from the residential area.
She questioned whether the council did indeed have the required five year housing supply across the borough as asserted.
Labour committee member Angela Claydon (St Paul’s ward) had sympathy with the school’s needs but this ‘wasn’t the way to get that’. Backing planning officers who said the plan was unsustainable and harmful to the countryside, she said the area was not allocated for expansion in the Local Plan.
Arguing the opposite, Tory committee member Jill Houlbrook (Con, Upton) said: “If the school doesn’t expand and doesn’t increase the facilities it can offer, and the village doesn’t grow, where are the children in the future going to come from?”
Conservative colleague Alan McKie (Con, Helsby), who supported her in moving approval, said: “I cannot see where the funding going forward, for anything, is going to come readily for any council other than by developers.
“Yes, it might be in the areas we don’t want it but unfortunately the future of this situation is by development. My concern is along the lines of sustaining a village and community.”
Fellow Tory committee member Howard Greenwood, who is also the Farndon ward councillor covering the Clutton area, said the argument around whether a development was sustainable or unsustainable was ‘a double edged sword’.
“If you don’t put development into an area it will never be sustainable,” he commented.
A Tory proposal supporting the development was defeated by five votes to four and refusal was backed by the same numbers.