DECISIONS by city councillors to safeguard a possible future public transport route are being challenged.
The issue has arisen at 29 and 31 Lime Tree Close in Newton where occupiers have erected fences to extend their gardens on to the steep grass bank at the edge of the millennium greenway.
Both retrospective applications, each covering the change of use to a garden, were rejected by the city's planning board in July.
They were made by David Brierty at no 29 and neighbour Katy Robinson at no 31.
The disused railway line, now a cycle track and footway, is a designated urban corridor and part of the Chester transport system, according to planning officers.
They told councillors that both neighbours had leased land at the rear of their gardens from Railway Paths UK and had erected 1.8m high boundary fences.
Their properties are part of a 28 dwelling development near the New Scene youth centre.
Objections came from the County Engineer who argued the applications did not protect the route from development to ensure it could be used for future transport purposes.
Countryside and landscape officers said the fencing had a detrimental effect on the landscape and the environment and would set a precedent.
They argued erosion of the steep bank due to the garden extensions was “a major concern” and insist ed they affected wildlife habitats.
Other neighbours wrote into the city council objecting to the scheme and arguing the fencing affected the urban green space.
The applications were also opposed by the Chester district of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
Campaigners were concerned about the precedent which could be set.
The Chester transport network includes the Chester Deeside Transport System and the Chester Western Relief Road, according to a report.
Councillors heard it will form the “backbone” for an improved public transport network for Chester linking major park-and-ride car parks with the city centre.
Public transport would use part of the disused Mickle Trafford to Shotton railway line between Hoole and Blacon, sections of the Chester Western bypass and possibly redundant tracks along the Holyhead railway line to reach the Wrexham Road park and ride.
The County Engineer argues that any future large transport scheme on the route would require all the land and granting permission for the garden extensions would compromise such a scheme.
If the situation was repeated at other places along the route it would have a detrimental impact on future transport projects.
The erection of the fences did not require planning permission, planning officers pointed out although the extensions to the gardens did.
They felt the change would not significantly affect the value of the route f or recreation, landscape or nature conservation.
They recommended, however, that both applications should be rejected as they would not save the land for future transport schemes.
“Any future highways scheme would require the use of the land,” principal planning officer Steve Lewis told the city's planning board.
Newton Sir Michael's City Cllr Adrian Walmsley (Con) said both applications intruded onto the greenway.
He referred to objections from the Friends of the Greenway and the CPRE which he described as “two bodies I admire tremendously”.
He said the fencing had been erected to deal with security issues on the advice of the police as there had been a serious break-in at no 31.
“The extended gardens have not changed the cycleway in any way,” he suggested.
Cllr Walmsley pointed out the area suffered from “unacceptable activities” by youths and said the occupiers, who had entered into legal agreements with Railway Paths, had followed the advice of city council officers.
The agreements, he said, provided for three months' notice to be given for the land to be given up.
Arguing that occupiers at Elmwood Avenue had also extended their gardens, Cllr Walmsley asked: “Why are these being singled out.
“They have followed the advice they have received to the letter.
“It will not interfere with the greenway in any way whatsoever.”
Suggesting the occupiers were willing to reduce the height of the fencing, he added: “They have the right to protect their properties.”
“I question the need for planning permission if they are enclosing their own gardens,” said Cllr Max Drury (Ind, Curzon & Westminster).
Supporting refusal, Cllr Hilarie McNae (Con, Upton Grange) commented: “I appreciate the owners have taken the correct path which is commendable but antisocial behaviour should be addressed through other means.
“I find the fencing is intrusive.”
She pointed out the occupiers would have been aware they had small gardens when they purchased their properties.
Supporting refusal, Cllr Paul Cheetham (Lib Dem, Vicars Cross) described the fencing as “an eyesore” while Elton City Cllr Barry Cowper (Lab) suggested: “Any nimble person could climb the fence due to its design.”
Development control manager Fiona Edwards confirmed that although the fencing did not require planning permission, the use of the land as a domestic garden did.
“Chester is aiming to become a must see destination by 2015,” suggested Cllr Sandra Rudd (Lab, College) pointing out this could lead to “possible gridlock”.
“There must be some sort of travel system along with this route,” she said pointing out that would also deal with “many of the problems of antisocial behaviour”.
“The problem we have is the impact on any possible transport scheme.
“I am concerned this would set a precedent,” said Paul Parry on behalf of the County Engineer.
Cllr Walmsley said the residents recognised they could be asked to forfeit the extended gardens given three months' notice but in separate votes councillors agreed by 8-2 with three abstentions the applications should be rejected.
Separate appeals have now been launched to communities and local government secretary Hazel Blears, who is to appoint an inspector to decide the issues on the basis of written representations.
Comments on each are due by Tuesday, October 14 with the Planning Inspectorate in Room 3/12a, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6PN.