Can a council object to its own development proposals?
Yes, it can!
From the beginning of our campaign, we have regularly monitored Cheshire East Council’s website and press releases. And, it’s fair to say, we have been highly critical of the council as a whole – particularly in its role as the local planning authority.
We shouldn’t forget, however, that as one of the country’s biggest local authorities it comprises a large number of individual departments and teams, each of which has its own function to perform.
We were happily reminded of this in mid-September when we spotted a formal objection from Cheshire East’s Flood Risk Officer (FRO) to Phase 1 of the proposed scheme to destroy Danes Moss North.
The reason for the objection is an appalling lack of detail in the technical reports used to justify the reserved matters application. Sadly, this isn’t the only part of the application that is woefully short on information… but more of that later.
As part of the flood risk objection, the Council’s officer helpfully sets out the necessary information required before the impact of the proposed development on flood risk in South Macclesfield can be assessed. This includes:
- Provision of MicroDrainage calculations for proposed drainage layout (MicroDrainage is the software used to calculate surface water drainage capacity);
- Technical Drawings of the proposed drainage layout, including invert levels, cover levels, finished floor levels, discharge locations, and attenuation tanks;
- Evidence of consent from any applicable water bodies receiving drainage water;
- Evidence of consent from network rail to drain via railway land if applicable;
- Description of the depth of the peat in the peat bog, to test the viability of infiltration;
- Description and justification of soil type used in the Qbar estimation (Qbar is the natural mean flow-rate across the site, used to calculate criteria for post-development drainage);
- Description of how any drainage will impact the Danes Moss SSSI;
- Description of how existing drainage into the site from development to the north will be managed;
- The proposed drainage scheme needs to account for the current upstream drainage into the drainage network;
- Description and investigation of the viability of the implementation of SuDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage System).
(Explanatory text in italics is ours – the rest belongs to the Flood Risk Officer)
Although this objection to Phase 1 is an emphatic rejection of the current reserved matters application, it should come as no surprise to the planning team. Because on 3rd May 2022 a different FRO from the same team opened his comments on Phase 6 of the proposed development with:
The “serious concerns” included the generic absence of information, but also contained the observation that Phase 6 would occupy an area known to be at risk of flooding during periods of heavy rainfall (i.e., pluvial flood risk). This crucial issue requires robust information on storage or attenuation of flood water, not the scrappy, self-serving technical note included in the accompanying application. In short, no credible evidence was provided to show how houses could be built in an area of known flooding risk.
The Flood Risk team also objected each of the other eight reserved matters applications on the basis of insufficient evidence on which they could form an opinion. A deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs for the people who live close to, or downstream of, Danes Moss North; and ditto for any occupants of houses misguidedly built on the site.
Our suggestion is that the water should be left in the ground to preserve carbon that has been locked into the peat for over 8,000 years.
But the Flood Risk Team isn’t the only group of Council officers who take a dim view of the site’s destruction.
The Nature Conservation Officer (NCO) noted in his comments on the Phase 1 (Spine road) application that it was broadly in line with his earlier opinion of details submitted with the outline application. So, it is worth looking at what his earlier opinion entailed.
Firstly, it was noted that the grassland, raised bog, and much of the woodland areas were poorly described and under-valued for their species and wildlife potential. It was also pointed out that the proposals contradicted themselves in respect of the existing hedgerow fringing Congleton Road – The Environmental Statement supporting the application said it would be retained while the access road and site entrance details showed it being removed. Confusing.
In twelve pages of comments the NCO identified adverse permanent impacts on several species including Willow tit, reptiles, Small heath butterfly, foraging bats, hedgehog, amphibians, and badgers. Meanwhile, it was concluded that residual adverse impacts on habitats would include:
- Hedgerows (Local level adverse impact)
- Woodland (County level adverse impact)
- Ponds (Local – County level adverse impact)
- Invertebrate habitat (Local – County level adverse impact)
- Loss of reptile habitat (Local level adverse impact)
- Loss of barn owl foraging habitat (Local level adverse impact)
- Loss of terrestrial habitat for toads (Local level adverse impact)
As the officer notes, the Phase 1 reserved matters application accords with these earlier comments. However, the NCO gamely suggests a number of planning conditions aimed at protecting wet woodland and implementing management and monitoring strategies. Some of these would be sensible, others less so (bird boxes are absolutely no use to Willow tits; they need rotten wood – lots of it).
And the reserved matters applications for Phases 2-10 are of an even lower standard with little, if any, ecological data relating to individual Phases. This is because the various reports prepared solely for the link road part of the project were regurgitated, without even changing their covers, in each site-specific application – a textbook example of the mis-use of science in the planning process.
How are councillors expected to make decisions on such poor information? Who took the decision to adopt this cavalier approach to planning documentation? What will be in the planning officer’s report to councillors if any of the reserved matters applications reach the Strategic Planning Board?
Should we, as residents of Macclesfield and Cheshire East, demand better from our public servants?
The Council’s Principal Landscape Architect seemed to think the landscape details supplied with the spine road application were acceptable, although the one-line response included no comment or recommendations for planning conditions.
The officer’s comments on the remaining nine reserved matters are, however, almost comically terse and state clearly that:
We wonder, not for the first time, who was paid to prepare such blatantly deficient reserved matters applications.
There is a silver lining to this cloud however, because since the Principal Landscape Architect’s time is not taken up with preparing a commentary, perhaps they could investigate the reasons for excluding the Danes Moss North site from Cheshire East’s Landscape Character Classification Assessment that we explain in our blog posting dated 21st February 2023 (read more here) and recent Facebook posts.
PUBLIC RIGHTS OF WAY
In July 2019 the Council’s Definitive Map Officer registered a holding objection to the Phase 1 Spine road proposals, which was followed by formal objections to Phases 8 (housing) and 10 (commercial development) due to impacts on Footpath no.1 (Sutton).
In addition to these rejections of the submitted applications, the officer summarised a range of negative impacts on the network of walked routes criss-crossing the site – a network that has been helpfully defined by a local Town Councillor (and now a Cheshire East Councillor). Destruction of these routes will involve procedures under section 257 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1991; procedures which the officer warns, can be time consuming (and therefore costly).
At present the Danes Moss North site is a beautiful, accessible, and wildlife-rich area of tranquillity that is actively used by local communities for informal recreation and respite. We need to keep it that way for now, and for our children.
During the course of our campaign we have spoken to many Cheshire East (and Macclesfield Town) councillors who, with only one or two exceptions, have been polite, courteous, and willing to listen to our concerns. We understand that they cannot be experts on all aspects of planning, climate change, nature conservation and all the other related issues that comprise development, but they should at least take advice and guidance from their own specialist officers.
Those officers need to be drawn from the widest pool of expertise, not just from the Economic Development service.
To summarise, the very idea of building any houses on Danes Moss is looking more and more ridiculous. The professional opinions of Cheshire East Council officers are now stacking up against this poorly planned scheme. Essentially, they add technical detail to what the rest of us find quite obvious: Danes Moss should never – under any circumstances – become a construction site.
An alternative future for this magical place can be found in our Vision. We hope that both Barratt Homes and Cheshire East Council drop any plans for building on Danes Moss and embrace the benefits of restoring the site to nature.