- Council leader repeats misinformation making Danes Moss look like an environmental problem rather than the treasure that it is
- Deputy leader who said that the development site on Danes Moss has “…has
limited environmental and ecological benefit” sits on Strategic Planning Board that will decide future of Danes Moss
- Chief Executive of Cheshire East Council refuses to meet Save Danes Moss group
More Misinformation in Conversation with the Leader and Deputy Leader…
Keen followers of Cheshire East Council’s antics will be familiar with the series of online videos called “A Conversation with the Leader and Deputy Leader”
For those less keen, these events are part of the council’s Openness and Transparency strategy and comprise the leader – Cllr Sam Corcoran (1) , and the deputy leader – Cllr Craig Browne (2) responding to questions sent in by residents. Questions are carefully selected from a long list and are put to the councillors by Michael, a genial and attentive employee of the Council.
Do not expect a real conversation however, as residents are not directly involved and answers are scripted, with neither councillor seeming to be very comfortable with the process. It is more of a “talking heads” event than a conversation, where senior elected
members recount the ruling group’s policies, but at least they are trying to reach their constituents. Or are they?
The underlying flaw in the whole “conversation” is that the scripted replies repeat much of the misinformation, half-truths, and ignorance that has bedevilled the Council’s attitude towards Danes Moss throughout this campaign.
For example, in their December 2022 “conversation” (3) , Cllr Corcoran repeats the assertion that degraded peatland (such as Danes Moss North) emits carbon, but he fails to place this in context. In fact, all vegetation emits greenhouse gases (mostly as methane or carbon dioxide) as plants die and decompose; this is a natural process and in this respect, grass growing on Danes Moss North is no different to pasture grown on peat elsewhere in the borough. Except that pasture grown on farmed peatland emits up to eight times more greenhouse gas than areas such as Danes Moss North, according to the report Cllr Corcoran quotes (4) . The peatland surface vegetation at Danes Moss North actually accounts for a very small proportion of emissions from peatland in Cheshire East. Presenting half-information as a means of discrediting evidence is an established political ploy but it should have no place in the discussions around conserving Danes Moss North.
Cllr Corcoran also commits a sin of omission by forgetting to mention that the deep peat beneath Danes Moss North locks up around 220,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases and that this stockpile will be released if the peat dries out. The reserved matters applications
contain no credible methods for stabilising the peat, and with a water table at, or very close to, the ground surface it is clear that it would have to be drained or excavated before building could occur. Development will clearly put the permanent storage of enormous volumes of greenhouse gases at risk.
Call on Cllr Browne to recuse himself from the Danes Moss reserved matters decisions
Cllrs Corcoran and Browne correctly state that the reserved matters submissions are live planning applications on which they are unable to comment freely. Cllr Browne, being a member of the Strategic Planning Board, also correctly states that he has a legal
requirement to “retain an open mind” on all applications coming before the Board. This is the same Cllr Browne who, in the previous “Conversation” exercise held in June 2022 (5) stated that the Danes Moss North site (or SMDA in Council-speak) “…has limited environmental and ecological benefit” and he refers to an unnamed independent assessment to confirm this opinion.
For Cllr Browne’s benefit, the site has been shown to support over 800 species of plants, mosses, invertebrates, birds, and mammals of which at least 61 are protected under UK law. It has also been designated as a Local Wildlife Site by a partnership that includes Cheshire East Council (6) . It is difficult to understand how it can be “…of limited…benefit”. But perhaps that unnamed assessment could provide an answer?
The unnamed assessment could be the Environmental Statement (ES) that was submitted with the outline application in 2017. Chapter 2 of the ES contains the scope of studies undertaken during an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). According to chapter 2, study of climate change was explicitly excluded, and despite the recommendations of the Council’s Principal Nature Conservation Officer, any assessment of invertebrates and (initially) breeding birds was also excluded. The EIA ignored the presence of peat, stored carbon, groundwater flows and volumes and, in consequence failed to comply with Council policy (7) and the National Planning Policy Framework (8) (NPPF). Since the EIA relates to the outline planning application it could be construed as irrelevant to current reserved matters, however it is, even now, used to justify statements made in these current applications and its failures render them grossly deficient.
Cllr Browne has made his views of the reserved matters applications abundantly clear in these “Conversations”, even though incorrect evidence is used to underpin his utterances. It is difficult – in fact impossible – in the context of his duty to maintain an open mind, to see how he can remain on the Strategic Planning Board in the event of Danes Moss North being considered. We call on Cllr Browne to recuse himself from determination of the reserved matters applications on the basis of his biased and ill-informed commentary on the issues.
Both Cllr Corcoran and Cllr Browne have made it clear that the reserved matters
applications can only be refused on planning grounds. We agree. We point them towards paragraph 180 of NPPF which requires that:
The peat deposits at Danes Moss and their habitats have taken over 8,000 years to develop, and have created a complex and valuable ecology, so are in human and wildlife terms irreplaceable. If Cheshire East’s planning officers choose to overlook the requirements of NPPF, perhaps they should listen to their own colleagues from other council departments, who have registered objections to the reserved matters on the basis of inadequate information.
During the course of the campaign to Save Danes Moss, we have met many councillors, of diverse political affiliations, from Cheshire East and further afield. All of them have been thoughtful and committed people who want to do their best for their community. We cannot say the same for council officers who have, presumably, written the scripts for the Leadership duo’s “Conversation”, and who continue to brief councillors on matters beyond their expertise. We cannot say the same for them because they have not engaged with us, or even bothered to return emails. As public servants they show scant respect for their public, which is why we have frequently had to resort to procedures under the Freedom of Information Act, 2000 to obtain even the most basic material.
Cheshire East Council Chief Executive refuses to meet Save Danes Moss
Last year the Save Danes Moss group wrote to the Council’s Chief Executive – Dr. Lorraine O’Donnell – asking for a face-to-face meeting to discuss our concerns. She refused. Her reason was to remind us that:
Incredibly she also stated that:
So, the council is able to meet with national housebuilding companies but not with a small community group made up of Cheshire East residents?
Surely a conversation between real people is better than confidence-busting stonewalling?
We would prefer to conduct a respectful dialogue with both elected members and unelected officers rather than resort to our own online “conversation”; it is time for
Cheshire East Council to step up to the mark and discuss the issues Openly and Transparently.
1 Labour, Sandbach Heath and East
2 Independent, Alderley Edge
4 Peatlands of Cheshire East; Cheshire Wildlife Trust; June 2021.
6 Cheshire Local Wildlife Site Partnership: Cheshire Wildlife Trust, rECOrd, Cheshire East Council, Natural England and others.
7 Specifically LPS13 policies contained in the Local Plan Strategy and Policy ENV1 of the Site Allocations and Development Policy document (SADPD)
8 Including, but not limited to NPPF 2012 and 20121 para.180 a)-d)