OUTLINE plans for almost 90 extra care apartments at a former school failed to gain permission.

The £12m development, involving 43 one bedroom apartments with a second bedroom intended for guests and 44 two bedroom apartments, has been put forward by Cheshire County Council at the Gorsthills community primary school site on Berry Drive in Great Sutton.

It was recommended for approval to a meeting of Ellesmere Port and Neston planning committee but failed on a 4-5 vote after a lengthy debate.

Councillors did not oppose the concept of extra care but sent the plans back for the size and height to be reduced and parking concerns to be taken into account.

The part single storey, part two storey school buildings have been demolished, according to a report.

The application excludes the majority of the playing fields at the school.

It is part of a bid by the county council to develop 200 extra care apartments out of a total development of 400 apartments on four sites across Cheshire, councillors heard.

The scheme included 40 parking spaces.

Half the apartments would be open market and half social rented.

There would be four full time staff and eight part time.

Extra care combines housing, care and support services for older people, typically over 55, with a 24 hour on site care team and a range of on site support and communal facilities, councillors were told.

A community village in the accommodation, which would also be available to non residents, would include a fitness and wellbeing studio, a treatment room, hairdressing, a hobby/craft room, an IT/reading room, a dining area, lounge and "village hall".

There would also be a residents' launderette and a separate lounge together with a communal garden including a greenhouse.

The three storey building would be set back 40m from Berry Drive and landscaping and trees at the front of the school would be retained.

The development would have a traditional pitched roof and balconies.

It is intended the remainder of the school site would become community open space and the county council says it would carry out public consultation on the future use of the playing fields.

Tall trees were proposed on the boundary with the adjacent Sutton Hall water treatment works to provide screening.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advised the borough council there were sufficient reasons on safety grounds to advise against planning permission due to the storage of chlorine at the works.

Although it says the likelihood of a major accident is "small" it feels the risks to people in the vicinity should be considered.

Neighbours are concerned the building would be out of character with two storey housing in the residential area.

They point out it would be 50m from housing on the opposite side the road and should be moved further away.

Residents believe their views have not been adequately taken into account and argue the wider community benefits provided by the accommodation do not override their concerns.

They feel Berry Drive, which they described as "narrow", is unsuitable for increased traffic and it would not be practical for it to become a bus route.

Occupiers fear they will suffer noise and disruption and have suggested bungalows would be more suitable.

It has also been suggested the site should be retained for school use given possible housing development in Ledsham and on Green Lane.

Borough planners believe the development would not affect the character of the area and very few trees would be removed.

Traffic on Berry Drive would be lower than when Gorsthills was open as a school.

The application was recommended for approval, subject to 26 conditions.

For Cheshire County Council, project leader Mr Mick Howarth told councillors the number of older people in Ellesmere Port is expected to increase by 5,000 while the number of over 85s will double.

The extra care would increase the choice available to local people and would bring significant benefits to the community.

The apartments would be available to everyone regardless of income or the level of their dependency.

Facilities in the development would be open to the local community.

The development, which would be 2 1/2 storeys at the front, had been set back in the site and the number of apartments had been reduced from 100.

"The attractive high quality accommodation will be a great benefit to Ellesmere Port," suggested Mr Howarth.

In a strongly worded and detailed objection, Cllr Graham Smith (Con, Willaston & Thornton) suggested "the emotion and hype about the old folk and the good to the community" was not a planning issue.

He emphasised he supported the concept of extra care and the need for special designed accommodation.

Cllr Smith insisted, however, the "three storey industrial looking building" would be totally out of character with the neighbourhood.

Cllr Smith argued there was general agreement that extra care would have been welcome "but not in a three storey building."

He believed there would be parking problems as the number of spaces would be inadequate for residents, staff and visitors and argued the previous use of the site as a school did not reduce the risk suggested by the HSE.

The school had an alarm system which had been regularly tested, was open plan and could be quickly evacuated.

Cllr Smith said he was concerned at a suggestion that planning officers had indicated the "massive" building was acceptable.

Supporting Cllr Smith, Cllr Derek Gaskell (Lib Dem, Riverside) suggested it was easier to evacuate children than elderly people.

Cllr Myles Hogg (Con, Willaston & Thornton) said there was no doubt that extra care would be welcomed.

He suggested it would "probably be folly" to consider removing a lay-by at the school which was well used.

Parked vehicles already made Berry Drive a chicane, he suggested adding:"On street parking, if it were to occur, would make residents' lives a misery."

He felt extra parking could be included if it was thought necessary.

The location was not ideal for shops and other facilities and Cllr Hogg believed that "vulnerable residents would take time to be evacuated from the building."

Council leader Cllr Justin Madders (Lab, Ledsham) pointed out the HSE believed there were issues.

He asked if the local authority would have nomination rights and commented:"There are people on the housing list whose needs could be catered for by this development."

Cllr Madders sought an assurance the playing fields would be developed and available to the community.

Development control manager Mr Iwan Hughes agreed the development would be higher than would be expected for a semi detached or detached property and said the retention of trees at the front of the site was "critical" in helping to minimise the size of the building.

It was considered that 40 parking spaces were adequate and the County Engineer felt the lay-by should be removed.

Describing the HSE advice as "familiar", Mr Hughes said that where the council had sought to approve planning applications, the issue had not been pursued by the HSE.

Planning chairman Cllr Mark Henesy (Lab, Groves) believed at least 25% of the open market apartments should be affordable.

Commenting on the parking issue, borough planning chief Mr Tom Miller suggested 40 spaces "is about right."

"The sad fact is that elderly people's accommodation does not get the number of visitors you might expect," he suggested.

He pointed out that between a third and a half of the town is covered by the consultation zone for hazardous substances and said he would be concerned if development was prevented.

Although the HSE could call applications in, "they very, very rarely do so" said Mr Miller.

"The increasing numbers of old people will be a really serious problem in Ellesmere Port as the people who came in in the late 50s and 60s get older," he told the committee.

"It is difficult to get appropriate sites for extra care."

Mr Miller believed the concerns which had arisen could be dealt with in the detailed application.

Cllr Smith claimed:"In a way we are being emotionally blackmailed into accepting a sub standard development.

"The general consensus had been well done but now people are horrified."

The committee agreed the outline plans could not have approval.