Save Danes Moss

The Handforth development mirrors Danes Moss process and transparency issues at Cheshire East Council
Barn Owl Handforth

The next Strategic Planning Board meeting is on Friday 13th January 2023 and it’s main focus is the outline planning for the proposed development of 1500 houses at Handforth on the edge of Cheshire East, north of Macclesfield.
It is for 19/0623M, an outline planning application:
Handforth Planning Portal Page
An agenda for the meeting can be found here:
Strategic Planning Board Agenda 13/01/2023

The Barn Owl picture used at the top of this page is taken near Blossoms Lane within approximately 100 metres of the edge of the proposed development.

Reading through the agenda document from page 11 onwards it is interesting to see how many parallels there are with this development and the proposed development at Danes Moss.

To begin, it is being recommended for approval by the Planning Officers on the basis of what appears to be a summary that completely omits listing the damage and objections regarding the environmental impact of this development.

A range of environmental considerations have been examined and although comments from the Environment Agency are awaited in relation to recent reports on groundwater, it is expected they will withdraw their objection in the near future as the reports indicate there are no significant concerns. Other environmental matters can be conditioned.

This statement appears to be lacking some of the truths that are contained elsewhere in the document regarding significant concerns…

Map showing Handforth development
Map showing the extent of the area proposed for development

It can be seen the applicant is a company called ‘Engine of the North‘, this happens to be the same applicant as the Danes moss development. It is a company registered to Cheshire East Council and therefore Cheshire East Council will be primary landowner again, i.e. this is development on publicly owned land where the Council are also the planning authority.


Is has been allocated under site LPS 33, more detail can be found here:
LPS33 Spacial Plan Details
Note some of the principles of development:
e: Features of amenity value including mature trees, hedgerows and ponds must be retained where possible.
k: The development should retain important habitats and provide compensatory habitats for great crested newts and other protected and priority species and habitats on the site. The green corridors should be designed to support the preservation and enhancement of biodiversity on the site.

This sounds familiar to the the kind of principles that were largely ignored in the planning approval of the Gaw End Lane development adjacent to Danes Moss and adjacent to the Site of Special Scientific interest. Here for site LPS17 Gaw End Lane there were the following principles:

  • The site will be developed only where it can be demonstrated that there is no significant harm on the Danes Moss SSSI, particularly in relation to changes in water levels and quality and recreational pressures. This should include a full assessment of the direct and indirect impacts of the development on the features of special interest. Where impacts cannot be avoided, appropriate mitigation measures will be required to ensure protection of the SSSI
  • Any application would need to be supported by a full ecological appraisal. Ecological mitigation would be required to address any adverse impacts.
    More information can be found on this on our blog here:

It seems statements that are made enabling sites to be added to the local plan are then largely bypassed within the planning process.


As was recently publicised, the whole of the proposed development area at Danes Moss is now an LWS (Local Wildlife Site):
Cheshire Wildlife Trust article on Danes Moss LWS
What this means in practice is:

While Local Wildlife Site status does not prevent the site from being built upon, it means the site’s wildlife value must be taken into consideration before any final decision is made on the development. The new status would also require any developer to do more to limit the damage caused to wildlife.

From the bottom of page 20 of the agenda document it can be seen there are significant objections for the damage this development will have on the Handforth Dean Meadows and Ponds Local Wildlife Site (LWS). The proposed scheme will result in the loss of at least 49% of this site with potentially more without adequate measures to protect the site during construction.
There are still numerous unaddressed comments for the environmental impact (the ‘ES Addendum’) that remain unanswered:

  • the exact construction footprint is still undefined and it is without a Landscape and Ecology Management Plan to protect retained features of the LWS (sounds familiar to Danes Moss, there is still no released ES Addendum for the reserved matters applications regarding ecology, also sounds familiar to Gaw End Lane where the hedgerow to be retained was removed by developers regardless of the fact it was clearly marked as priority for protection)
  • the Biodiversity Net-Gain (BNG) calculations appear not to be available for scrutiny, if there is really net-gain then why? (sounds familiar to Danes Moss, see here for information on the Carbon report that was withheld for 10 months: Hidden Peat Report)
  • A number of ecological receptors within the area impacted by the proposed development are undervalued, some significantly (sounds familiar to Danes Moss where the Environmental impact Assessment was completely inadequate for the outline planning approval, read more here: Process and Transparency Issues at Cheshire East Council)
  • The accuracy of the impact assessment, e.g. leading to inappropriate and insufficient mitigation (sounds familiar to Danes moss, scientifically incorrect ‘Ecology Technical Note’ regarding the impact on Dingy Skipper Butterfly here TEP Ecology Note verses a rebuttal citing academic research here Cheshire Wildlife Trust response, the reality with development is not beneficial but extremely detrimental)
  • The Principles of Garden Villages (reference the guidance contained in the Garden City Standards for the 21st Century: Practical Guides for Creating Successful New Communities), which states (Principle 7) that designated “sites and irreplaceable habitats of international, national and local significance should be protected from development.” (sounds familiar to Danes Moss, the whole of the proposed development area at Danes Moss is a section 41 habitat of principle importance and as detailed in the withheld carbon report it’s restoration potential makes it internationally significant)

In the Officer Appraisal in the performance against the SPD on page 41 it states:

Principle 6: Development that provides net biodiversity gains and protects local heritage assets: The initial signs are positive that there will be biodiversity gains and local heritage assets will be enhanced as well as protected. Existing ponds are being retained and wildlife habitats enhanced and the listed but currently derelict Dairy House Farm will be repurposed and brought back into use.

How can such a misleading statement be included within the document? Developments should not proceed on ‘initial signs’ there should be hard documented evidence in these times of both the climate and the biodiversity crisis. To take a quote from page 51:

Local Wildlife Sites receive protection under Local Plan Core Strategy Policy SE3. The proposed development would result in the direct loss of 49% of the Local Wildlife Site. The close proximity of the retained portion of the Local Wildlife Site to the proposed development will result in a deleterious effect on the Local Wildlife Site as a result of dog fouling, litter, trampling, disturbance and the introduction of non-native species and undesirable species. These effects are significant in the County context.

Little Owl pictured within 100m of the proposed development

It is noted on page 54 how ‘mitigation‘ is some cases is to simply say it does not matter:

A barn owl was recorded foraging on the application site during breeding bird survey. No evidence of roosting barn owls was however observed that was associated with the buildings or trees on site, nor any further observations of barn owl made during the bat surveys. It is therefore likely that the proposed development would result in the loss of an area of occasional used barn owl foraging habitat which would have a localised adverse impact upon this species

There are many records of Barn owls living in the area, just ask the residents living on Church lane and Blossoms lane, not to mention the Tawny Owls and Little owls that have not even been considered.

This is very familiar with the Gaw End Lane permission where a Barn Owl was seen on a bat survey, and again on the proposed development area at Danes Moss. Simple investigation with Cheshire Wildlife Trust would have confirmed their nesting within hundreds of metres of these sites. How many times can we say it is an ‘occasional forage area’ or a ‘percentage of a territory’ before we make the available habitat so small they simply become extinct in the area.

See the latest biodiversity update summary here for Danes Moss: Biodiversity Update November 2022
It can be assumed that a similar array of biodiversity will exist at handforth but has simply been ignored via minmal surveying, adopting a policy of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ provides explanation for one of the reasons why we are seeing such declines in wildlife within Cheshire East and across the country. Here is an example from page 55:

The proposed development which includes on and offsite habitat creation measures would be sufficient to address the loss of habitat for the species of breeding birds present. The exception to this is potentially ground nesting priority bird species which have been recorded on the application site historically. These species were not however present on-site during surveys undertaken to inform the Environmental Statement.

Perhaps Cheshire East Council should make the effort to look a bit harder for all wildlife?
In a time of biodiversity loss is ‘sufficient’ mitigation good enough to help solve the issue? it is well known there is not much scientific basis to say mitigation actually works: British Ecological Society Article

Another poor example can be found on page 55 regarding bats:

If planning consent is granted a condition should however be attached which requires future reserved matters applications to be supported by an updated protected species survey and assessment.

Surely all the evidence for this should be collated prior to any granting of planning consent to ensure the affected species can be protected. Pushing these issues to reserved matters means they can simply be lost or ignored in the future with quotes such as ‘the principle of planning has already been agreed with the passing of outline planning’. So pushing it to a later stage, but then at the later stage referring to the earlier stage and skipping the required due diligence.

For the proposed development area at Danes Moss we are yet to see any updates to environmental surveying or mitigation since the outline matters were submitted in 2019.

The bats lose out again like the Barn Owls with a lack of understanding of the low density occurrence of some species:

It is advised that the number of species of bats recorded on site would be sufficient for the study area to be considered of County value. The number of bat species recorded does, however, to a large extent reflect the very extensive area that was surveyed as part of the assessments and some species were only recorded occasionally.

Is it really acceptable to discount wildlife that should be protected just because they were recorded only occasionally? (many species exist at low densities and the method of surveying can cause imbalances in recording) Surely more investigation should be done, these are species protected by multiple laws.


The biodiversity net gain from page 57 of the Handforth document is listed as positive:

In order to address this loss of biodiversity the applicant is proposing to deliver habitat creation at two offsite locations on land within the control of the Council. The newly created habitats would be managed for 30 years. The result of this off-site habitat creation would be an overall net gain of +11.95 biodiversity units, a percentage net gain of 2.3%. Whilst a higher percentage figure would be desirable, policy only requires a net gain, and the overallgain is considered to be acceptable overall. delivering a wide range of mitigation works on and off site

While potentially an increase in biodiversity, this is potentially a very subjective (rather than accurate) calculation based on key points referred to above in the objection from Cheshire Wildlife Trust:

  • the assets are undervalued
  • the Biodiversity Net-Gain (BNG) calculations appear not to be available for scrutiny


How can these figures be trusted when the calculations are not available for scrutiny? is this the action of a modern, transparent local authority?
In addition, is getting a gain (based on flawed figures) aspirational enough? Is a gain that is ‘considered to be acceptable’ actually acceptable for a modern local authority to set as an example when considering planning permission on land it owns? 

For Danes Moss, how do we trust Cheshire East Councils aspirations of net zero when there is no acknowledgement of the impact of planning decisions for Council owned land on carbon output? There is 220,000+ tonnes of CO2 contained within the proposed development area at Danes Moss.


It can be seen on page 43:

the area was excluded from the Cheshire East Landscape Character Assessment 2018

This appears to be the same amendment in 2018 that removed the proposed development area at Danes Moss from the Landscape Character Assessment. Despite this being a significant change only 5 years ago there is no official record of why and how this was done despite investigation from the Save Danes Moss Community Group, more information can be found here 

Process and Transparency Issues at Cheshire East Council

The proposed Handforth development, like at Danes Moss, is an area of greenbelt and it is worth noting the agenda documentation states that Stockport Council continues to raise concerns over this:

In addition to the above, Stockport Council continues to raise Greenbelt and Landscape Character concerns. These concerns were raised in a letter sent in August 2019, and they remain as they consider nothing has been done to address them.

The Danes Moss development has similar unanswered concerns from 2018, e.g. the potential human impact of pollution from the adjacent landfill, see the communication from the company responsible for it’s management here: C3 Waste Response

Handforth Parish Council also object (page 24), one of the principles of development in the local plan is sustainability:

the sustainability of the proposed application site is in doubt. B) Sustainability: We note that a number of Government initiatives around the country, in reaction to the Climate Emergency, involve subsidising land owners to turn (for example) farm land into bio sites, e.g. bogs and scrub land, to help reverse climate change and to increase bio diversity. But the Garden Village is the antithesis of this: it is taking scrub land with a high bio diversity and turning it into a housing estate. On the large scale, this is illogical and contravenes all policies designed to tackle the Climate Emergency.

We have major similar concerns on a very large scale for the proposed Danes Moss development, see the withheld Council commissioned carbon report mentioned above for a full description of the 220,000+ tonnes of CO2 it contains.


To conclude, is this really an acceptable docment to issue to the Councillors on the Strategic Planning Board and for residents of Cheshire East?

The Wildlife Trust have objected to the application fundamentally because of the loss of part of the Local Wildlife site (LWS). This is acknowledged but it was known at the time the site was allocated for development in the Local Plan back in 2017 and the package of on and off-site compensation works proposed seeks to address this loss.'

Did the Council really take into account the impact back then when even now the real impact to the environment has been downplayed and ignored? 2017 is 6 years ago, we know even more about what environmental damage habitat destruction is causing now and it is clear the ‘package of on and off-site compensation works’ is not fit for purpose. This is similar to the Danes Moss development where a decision is referred to that it was earmarked for development way back in 1997, is this really a reason that we should not take a step back and say actually this may have been a decision that was passed at the time but with further investigation it has proved to be wrong?

Is it reasonable for Cheshire East Council to continue to act in such a non-transparent and biased manner with planning decisions when the future of our climate and biodiversity is at stake?


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