A company chief executive and parish council chairman hit out at developers seeking to replace commercial units with more housing saying his firm enquired about locating there but was given the brush-off.
Roy Shelton, CEO of ITS Technology Group and chair of Huntington Parish Council, unsuccessfully argued against GMV Eight’s resubmitted application for 120 homes at the former Saighton Army Camp, which was given the go-ahead at Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee.
The company originally included 5,000 sq m employment land and a primary school in its vision when granted planning permission on appeal for 375 homes.
But it later asked to replace those elements with another 120 homes, arguing there “remains an absence of any demand for employment” and an alternative off-site location for a new primary school is preferred.
Cllr Shelton, who addressed the meeting in public speaking time, was highly sceptical.
He said: “I’m the CEO of one of the fastest growing technology companies in the UK and late last year we had an acute lack of space within the local area. We have been forced to make over £1m investment outside the area and create over 40 new jobs outside the area because we were being told by the agent that they were not pro-actively marketing the space on Saighton Camp.
“I couldn’t be given the definitive answer from the agent about the purchase price or the completion date of those commercial units either so that forced us to look elsewhere.”
He argued people who chose to buy homes at Saighton Camp made a lifestyle choice based on knowledge there would be commercial units and a school on site.
But Sarah Wozencroft, who advanced the applicant’s position, explained here was no legal basis to protect the application site for a school or employment land. She said three years of marketing evidence lodged with the council showed the commercial units were ‘not viable’.
She added: “The proposal before you today will help deliver much-needed family housing in Chester including up to 30 affordable homes targeted at local people. It ensures efficient use of a brownfield site on what is otherwise recognised as a truly sustainable and accessible location on the urban edge of the city. There are absolutely no sound planning reasons why this application ought to be refused.”
Councillors unanimously but reluctantly approved the application, in line with the planning officer’s recommendation, fearing opposition may lead to losing on appeal with costs awarded against the authority. The matter had already been deferred from the previous meeting despite the deadline having passed, which worried committee member Cllr Alex Black.
He said: “I believe this developer has got us over a barrel here. The council already probably has a liability of thousands of pounds of legal costs for the applicant. We’ve got much better uses for that sort of money at a time when we’re looking for more money to improve our parks and people are paying the bedroom tax and possibly even losing their homes because of shortage of money. I resent us further enhancing the incomes of rich lawyers so, reluctantly, I think we do have to approve this application.”