Save Danes Moss

Response by Cheshire East Head of Planning to Constituent query by David Rutley MP denying development is on Danes Moss
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Our MP David Rutley recently wrote on the behalf of one of his constituents, to Cheshire East’s Chief Executive, Lorraine O’Donnell about the proposed development of Danes Moss. He received a replyfrom David Malcolm, Head of Planning at Cheshire East Council. There is a sentence in his reply that deserves close reading for what it appears to reveal about what might be the attitude of at least some in the planning department to this proposed development.

As will be known the South Macclesfield Development Area is not on Danes Moss and benefits from an outline planning permission for development in accordance with the allocation in the Cheshire East Local Plan Strategy

David Malcolm, Head of Planning Cheshire East Council, 2022

The Head of Planning, the department that is responsible for determining the outcome of the planning applications for the development appears to be denying that the site is on Danes Moss. If anyone should be familiar with the history of the site, the planners involved in any decision certainly should be. The truth is that the development site is very much part of Danes Moss, a lowland raised bog that once extended for over 1000 acres across the land to the south of Macclesfield. Of this once extensive wetland habitat only Danes Moss SSSI and nature reserve survive as active bog habitat. The north of the moss where development is proposed is a remnant of the same habitat but
is here much altered as the peat in places is drier, and succession to wet woodland, semi-improved grassland and scrub has gradually changed the landscape. But even in its altered state this is still a very valuable and irreplaceable habitat and it is geologically and ecologically still part of the Danes Moss raised lowland bog complex.

The denial of the history of this site as part of Danes Moss seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. In the 2009 Landscape Character Assessment the north of the site is clearly included within the Danes Moss Character Area which includes this description:

Across the area is a network of drainage channels and a distinctive feature of Danes Moss are the moss rooms in the north of the character area - long, thin fields enclosed by hedgerows. One of the three largest land fill sites in Cheshire is located here, screened by areas of new planting. There are areas of broad leaved woodland and in the north there are playing fields. The residual peat has a depth of up to 5m. In the north by the landfill site it is drying out although small dystrophic pools are present.

2009 Landscape Character Assessment

In September 2017 Cheshire Wildlife Trust in correspondence with Cheshire East about the proposed development at Danes Moss highlighted the protection that the designation as an area of high Landscape Character Value gave the area.

The proposed development area is of high Landscape Character Value as it supports historic features (moss rooms) associated with ancient peat extractions. These important features were identified in the 2008 Landscape Character Assessment (M1 Danes Moss Character Area). These are visible as a series of long narrow fields with intact high-value hedges. Loss of these historic features is contrary to policy SE7 b ‘Non-designated Heritage Assets’ and paragraph 13.62 and policy SE4 ‘The Landscape’ in the forthcoming Local Plan.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust 2017

In 2018 Cheshire East Council updated the Landscape Character Assessment. This new document includes the Danes Moss SSSI and the landfill site within the Danes Moss Character Area but excludes the north of Danes Moss i.e. the area that is earmarked for development and which the planning department no longer acknowledge as being part of Danes Moss. The landfill site is deemed of sufficient historic landscape value to be included but the historic moss rooms are not.

It is interesting to note that on Cheshire East’s website it states very clearly the role that the Landscape Character Assessment should play in shaping planning policy, the local plan and the determination of planning applications.

The 2018 Cheshire East landscape character assessment aims to provide an objective description of the landscape and a strategy for managing the landscapes of Cheshire East and guiding landscape change in the borough. It does not set out policy, but provides an evidence base to inform policies and proposals in the local plan, inform the determination of planning applications or more widely around policy change, development and landscape management. It updates the previous Cheshire landscape character assessment to reflect current good practice, the present state of the landscape and to provide a landscape strategy.

Cheshire East Website, 2022

It is difficult to see in what way the removal of the northern area of the Danes Moss site from the Landscape Character Area ‘reflects good practice or the present state of the landscape’. It may however have helped to smooth the progress of the planning application through the system and the timing of the removal is undoubtedly interesting.

David Malcolm has been asked why the northern part of Danes Moss was removed from the Landscape Character Area but no reply has been received. In response to a Freedom of Information request asking the same question the Council’s response was that it

it (Cheshire East Council) does not hold any information in relation to how the site came to be removed from the 2018 (Cheshire East landscape character assessment) document

Freedom of Information response for Cheshire East Council, 2022

This response was upheld by a subsequent internal review. The Council it seems have absolutely no record of how, or understanding of why, this happened.
Perhaps as the removal is a mystery to the Council too, they should hold an urgent review of the decision to remove the site from the 2018 Landscape Character Area. It is, after all, a material consideration in the current reserved matters planning applications for the site.

There is another element to the refusal to acknowledge that the site proposed for development is part of Danes Moss and that lies in the importance of place-names in ascribing value to a site. The whole history of the area is encapsulated within the name of Danes Moss. Its geological, ecological, economic and social history is wrapped up in that name. To call the site the South Macclesfield Development Area is to deny its history, its ecology and its value to local people and to reduce it to land that is there only to be built on. It would be surprising if those with a planning background did not have some understanding of the importance of place-names within the cultural landscape; perhaps this underlies the determination to rename and thus reinvent the site in the developers’ image.

The second part of the sentence is interesting too. Here David Malcolm states that the site:

benefits from an outline planning permission for development in accordance with the allocation in the Cheshire East Local Plan Strategy

David Malcolm, Head of Planning Cheshire East Council, 2022

The planning department’s role is to independently evaluate the merits of a planning application. The site may have outline planning permission but determination of the reserved matters applications has not yet been resolved. The planning department should therefore be maintaining an independent and non-prejudicial stance on this live application. To state that the site ‘benefits’ from having outline planning permission risks giving the impression that the planning department is not wholly unbiased in its attitude to this application. It could be even be said that such language would
be more at home in a sales brochure for the site than in a letter from the Head of Planning. ‘Benefits’ is also of course a loaded word in itself. The statement that the site ‘benefits’ from outline planning permission is worthy of another challenge. Developers may benefit, financiers may benefit, house builders may eventually benefit from the outline planning permission, but the site itself, a living and functioning landscape, won’t benefit. The site’s complex ecosystem and the wildlife that it supports won’t benefit, and the people of Macclesfield, who value the site as an open space for both recreation and as a connection to the natural world in the heart of their community, won’t benefit.

This is just a single sentence in one letter but it reveals much about possible attitudes within Cheshire East to the development of Danes Moss.

Full letter from David Malcolm, Head of Planning Cheshire East Council, to David Rutley MP regarding a constituent query, summer 2022:

Dear Mr Rutley,

Thanks you for your further correspondence of 23  June from your constituent XXXXX XXXXX. I have been asked to respond on behalf of Chief Executive Dr. O’Donnell.

As will be known the South Macclesfield Development area is not on Danes Moss and benefits from an outline planning permission for development in accordance with the allocation in the Cheshire East Local Plan Strategy.

There is little more I can say at present regarding the current detailed application. Any additional information submitted for the application will be published on the Council’s websote and the application including all representations will be subsequently considered by the Council’s Strategic Planning Board.

Regards

David

David Malcolm | Cheshire East Council

Head of Planning

Westfields, Middlewich Road, Sandbach,

CW11 1HZ

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