Applicant Legat Owen, on behalf of the university, was given change-of-use consent so the former Lloyds Banking Group site in Queen’s Park can be used for educational purposes.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee was reassured there would be no student accommodation but several members raised concerns about the university’s lack of consultation with the community.
She said: “It will change the character of the area. It will be detrimental to the amenities and the environment and cause an increase in traffic, parking and HMOs.”
Cllr Daniels added: “It’s disappointing the university has not consulted local councillors or residents about their intentions. I think it’s only polite to consult the local community who will be affected by this proposal.”
Calling for a deferment, she said there had been ‘a lot of speculation and uncertainty’ about this application including who was actually behind it.
Fellow ward councillor Neil Sullivan agreed there had been ‘a lack of clarity’ about the venture.
He was ‘pleased’ student accommodation was ‘not being contemplated’ but also concerned about parking issues and ‘disappointed’ with the university’s failure to consult.
Cllr Sullivan reminded the committee Redrow had previously wanted to demolish and redevelop the site for housing but the scheme was ‘eventually rejected because of poor design’.
Committee member Eleanor Johnson, who moved approval, hoped the university would take note of ongoing criticisms about not consulting the community.
She added: “I visited the site yesterday and I have to say the site looks sad. Something must happen to that site and I think personally this is the best use we can get for this site.
“I don’t think knocking down the building and putting residents’ housing there will help with parking issues.
“If this is going to be purely for education and not student accommodation then I’m minded to move approval.”
Every member voted in favour except Cllr Adrian Walmsley who felt it appropriate to abstain because he is a member of the university council.
Cllr David Armstrong said after the vote: “We have had a number of applications from the university and their public relations seems to be somewhat lacking.”
He asked for a letter to be sent from the council pointing out that it would be ‘sensible for them to consult with people locally’.
Negotiations are continuing between the University of Chester and Lloyds Banking Group plc concerning the purchase of the former HBOS premises in Handbridge - which the university says is the reason for a lack of consultation with the public.
Professor Tim Wheeler, the university’s vice-chancellor, said: “Commercial sensitivities and legal constraints have restricted the university from announcing its interest in the property more publicly until we have reached this stage.
“We are optimistic of reaching a final agreement over the next few weeks, at which point we will be in a better position to be able to confirm more details.
“What we can say is that, subject to the sale going through, the iconic Capital House and Bridge House would provide teaching and associated facilities for one of our academic faculties and we can re-iterate that there are no plans for student accommodation.”