CONSERVATIONISTS failed to persuade councillors they should change their minds on the vast new Marks & Spencer flagship store proposed at Cheshire Oaks.
Plans for the “Marble Arch of the North” destination shopping experience had unanimous approval in Ellesmere Port and Neston last month (December) with borough planning chief Tom Miller authorised to grant permission subject to a green light from the government.
It later emerged that decision was on hold as, at the time, councillors did not hear objections from Wirral Wildlife on a number of green issues.
A new report to a meeting of the borough's planning committee revealed it was believed the representations by the conservationists should be considered to allow councillors the chance to decide if their previous position should be altered.
Officials said they had given careful consideration to all the points raised by Wirral Wildlife but there was nothing to change their previous recommendation that the application should be approved.
Mr Miller said the objection had not been included at an earlier stage due to changes being made to council computer systems ahead of the reorganisation of local government in Cheshire on April 1.
He explained that although the objection from the conservationists had not been considered at the previous meeting, all the issues contained in it had been covered.
Wirral Wildlife said it objected unless considerable changes were made to the development.
For the group, Dr Hilary J Ash submitted a detailed three page report covering issues including the location of the store, said to be “highly car dependent”, the loss of protected trees, renewable energy and space for landscaping.
In response, Manchester based planning and environmental advisers HOW Planning, for Marks & Spencer, say efforts have been made to retain and protect as many of the trees on the site as possible.
Planting will maximise the potential for biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
No objections have been raised by the highway authority or the Highways Agency to transport, access or parking issues and Marks & Spencer is committed to ensuring the store would be accessible by a wide variety of transport including a shuttle bus.
Savings of between 25% and 50% were to be sought in the use of energy, half of which would be generated on site and there would be a minimum 20% reduction in carbon emissions compared with a typical store.
Cllr Derek Gaskell (Lib Dem, Riverside) protested that Wirral Wildlife had been given a courtesy which would not have been given to a member of the public.
“We have made the decision, it could not be called in by any councillor, I think it is an absolute disgrace,” he fumed.
Parkgate Cllr Brenda Dowding (Con) took the opposite point of view and believed it would be reasonable for the committee to change its mind if there was a valid planning issue.
Chairman Cllr Mark Henesy (Lab, Groves) said the objection had been referred to the committee following legal advice.
Councillors agreed the previous decision should stand.
The store is planned opposite The Coliseum park which includes outlets such as Boots, Mamas and Papas, Argos and Borders as well as a nightclub, bowling alley and a large multiscreen cinema.
The site is close to the Blue Planet aquarium, a Porsche showroom and an Audi dealership which is under construction.
The store would have two floors with 24,000 sq ft of food shopping, replacing the existing Marks & Spencer Simply Food store on The Coliseum which is only a third of the size.
The 950 car parking spaces include 850 for customers.
It is expected to see almost £100m going through the tills each year and £7m into the local economy.
The equivalent of 400 permanent full time jobs would be provided with 150 similar jobs at Christmas.
Jobs would be sought for people from more deprived areas and those who are long term unemployed including the young unemployed.
The store, minutes from junction 10 of the M53, is intended to cover most of Ellesmere Port and Neston and the Wirral with more than three quarters of a million people living within a 20 minute drive time.
It would be one of the largest Marks & Spencer stores in the country and would represent the largest single investment by M&S for 15 years.
Marks & Spencer has submitted letters to Chester City and Wirral borough councils confirming its commitment to stores in their areas and also to Flintshire County Council about the proposed Marks & Spencer store at the Broughton Retail Park.
It has also offered £1m to provide a town centre regeneration fund which would be used to help to reduce any effect on the centres of Ellesmere Port and Chester.
Highway improvements costing £5m are proposed around junction 10 of the M53 and Cheshire Oaks.
Chester's city planners voted to oppose the huge 195,000 sq ft development, which will offer both food and non food floorspace, a cafe, deli bar and restaurant if approved, after hearing that on Marks & Spencer's own figures, it will drain away £6m worth of shopping a year from the city centre.
Locally, both Little Stanney Residents Association and Little Stanney and District Parish Council have raised traffic fears.
A Marks & Spencer spokesperson has said that ahead of government approval it is too early to say when construction of the store would start.
It has been described as “an iconic brand in an iconic building”.