The planning system can be a confusing mess. Here is an explanation of the situation at Danes Moss.
First of all, an unpleasant name. The project to develop 136 acres of Danes Moss is known as ‘The South Macclesfield Development Area’ or SMDA for short.
At the bottom of the page is a list of all the planning applications related to the SMDA.
The SMDA project on Danes Moss has had outline planning permission since January 2019. However, in order to go ahead, the developers (the council and whoever they are in bed with this week) need to get 10 reserved matters applications passed. This has not happened yet and is not guaranteed. There is no indication when the reserved matters will be considered for planning permission but the ambition of the council is to get them passed before the end of 2022.
Now more detail…
Because the plan is for more than 200 houses, one planning application is not enough and it must be considered by the council’s Strategic Planning Board. Additionally, once an Outline Planning Application has been approved there is still a lot of detail to examine. These details are dealt with in several Reserved Matters Planning Applications but we will deal with these later.
An original outline planning application was made in 2017 under the reference 17/1874M.
This application aimed to establish the principle of development on the SMDA site and was granted in January 2019.
The story of how this happened is interesting.
The 12 members of the Strategic Planning Board considered the outline application (17/1874M) at a meeting at Macclesfield Town Hall on the 30 August, 2017. Public speakers against the development were Cllr. Laura Jeuda (Labour, Macclesfield South) and Dr Rachel Giles from the Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
Dr Giles patiently explained the importance of the site – the numerous priority species that would be devastated by the development, the fact that the peatland could possibly be restored to a natural peat bog (it turns out that it can) and that this would put it into a habitat classification of International Importance. She also repeated the objection of the Trust that the plan would lead to a net-loss of biodiversity and was ‘one of the most environmentally damaging schemes in Cheshire East in recent years.’ Later, Cllr Toni Fox asked the council’s Principal Nature Conservation Officer (Mr James Baggaley) whether he agreed with the assessment of the Wildlife Trust. Mr Baggaley responded that, ‘…yes, I guess it probably is one of the more ecologically damaging plans that we’ve considered recently.’
Incredibly, even though the Cheshire Wildlife Trust owns the neighbouring Danes Moss SSSI, the council did not consult with the Wildlife Trust over the development plans – despite five submissions to the council from the Trust. A glaring omission. Was this a deliberate attempt by the council to exclude the voices of wildlife experts and some of the strongest criticisms of the SMDA project? Make up your own mind.
First, Cllr Toni Fox (no longer a councillor) proposed a motion to refuse planning permission. It was defeated 8-4.
Next, Cllr Mike Sewart (Con, Poynton West and Adlington) proposed a motion to delegate authority for approval to one council officer – the Head of Planning, Mr David Malcolm – with a recommendation that the plans be approved. The motion was carried 8 votes to 4.
So, who voted in favour of the motion to develop Danes Moss?
- Cllr Steven Edgar (Conservative, Haslington) (Still sitting on the board)
- Cllr Sarah Pochin (Conservative, now Independent, Bunbury)
- Cllr Mike Sewart (Conservative, Poynton West and Adlington)
- Cllr Lesley Smetham* (Conservative, Gawsworth)
- Cllr Liz Wardlaw (Conservative, Odd Rode)
- Cllr Gill Merry (Conservative, no longer a councillor)
- Cllr John Hammond (Conservative, no longer a councillor)
- Cllr Derek Hough (Liberal Democrat, no longer a councillor)
- Cllr Steven Hogben (Labour, Crewe South) (Still sitting on the board)
- Cllr Toni Fox (no longer a councillor)
- Cllr Dennis Mahon (no longer a councillor)
- Cllr Janet Jackson (no longer a councillor)
*Note: Cllr Lesley Smetham has since changed her mind and now supports the Save Danes Moss campaign.
The site is 136 acres (or 55.05 hectares) and since 2017 about 53.6% of the land (c.29.54 hectares) has been owned by Cheshire East Council. Most of the remainder was owned by a company registered in Jersey called TG Limited. This company is owned by Thomas Gallagher who is the brother of billionaire property developer Sir Tony Gallagher. The company number is 115004, registered with the Jersey Financial Services Commission.
Tony Gallagher’s company, Gallagher Developments is acting as the planning agent for Cheshire East Council and TG Ltd on the SMDA project.
Electoral Commission records reveal that Tony Gallagher has donated more than £4.1m to the Conservative Party. With donations to individual MPs he has been most generous to the former Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis MP who received £49,014 in seven payments from 2017 – 2019.
These payments were only made after Brandon Lewis was no longer Housing Minister and had taken on new portfolios. What precisely was the point of all these donations? Was Sir Tony Gallagher so impressed by Brandon Lewis’ performance as Minister of Policing and the Fire Service that he could not resist donating £20,000 to his re-election campaign in 2017?
By comparison, Gallagher only gave one-off donations to other MPs and significantly less than he gave to Brandon Lewis – £10,000 was given to Boris Johnson and £8,000 to George Osbourne.
In 2016, Tony Gallagher hosted former Prime Minister David Cameron’s 50th birthday party at Sarsden House, his home in Chipping Norton.
In February 2022, The Sunday Times reported that Sir Tony Gallagher was part of a privileged group of Tory donors who, in return for a donation of at least £250,000 were made members of a ‘secret advisory board’ with direct access to the Prime Minister’s advisors. The report concludes: ‘None of the meetings appear to have been minuted or attended by civil servants, so there is unlikely to be any record of the advice or lobbying which took place.’
TG Ltd began buying land on Danes Moss in early 2014, eventually spending at least £22m. Some investments in TG Ltd activity came from overseas tax havens. A Gibraltar company called Spadea Holdings bought £5.8m in securities in TG Ltd which allowed investors to fund TG Ltd land purchases. These investors included Bluestar Enterprise Ltd, Walsingham Capital Ltd and the Panama-based Pegasus Star Holdings SA.
On 1st June 2016, Cheshire East Council struck a Collaboration Agreement with TG Ltd for the SMDA project. At the time, the Leader of the Opposition at Cheshire East Council, Cllr. Sam Corcoran said, “Businesses working closely with the council should be open and transparent and not hide in offshore havens.”
Cllr. Corcoran (Labour, Sandbach Heath and East) is now the Leader of Cheshire East Council. He has recently attempted to justify the development project by claiming that unspecified ‘new technology’ will allow construction of buildings and infrastructure to take place on deep peat.
The Planning Applicants
The applicants for most of the planning applications for the SMDA project are TG Ltd and Engine of the North.
Engine of the North, read Cheshire East Council. Engine of the North was incorporated in 2013 and is a company wholly owned by the Council. A decision was made to wind down the company in January 2019. This has still not happened although the council claim that the company is dormant and due to be closed down this year. Mr Paul Bayley is the sole director of Engine of the North and was apparently appointed to the role in 2019 to oversee the closure of the company.
So, if Engine of the North is no longer driving the SMDA project on behalf of the council, who is?
It appears that an informal grouping of council officers have taken on the project led by Peter Skates, the Director of Growth and Enterprise with occasional help from Charles Jarvis, Head of Economic Development and Brendan Flanagan, Head of Rural and Cultural Economy. Whether there is anyone on this team with an expertise or basic understanding of ecology, climate change, nature – in other words ‘the real world’ – is not at all clear.
Judging by the statements from the council and the Leader of the Council, the project is being driven from a purely short-term financial perspective that ignores and contradicts the council’s stated priorities on the environment.
At present, the oversight and responsibility for decision making on the SMDA project is very unclear.
Does Cheshire East Council really care about nature and climate change?
At the time that the South Macclesfield Development Area project was devised (2013 – 2016) and up until the last local election in 2019, the reputation of Cheshire East Council was not good. Corruption and a bullying culture were well documented and resulted in seven seperate police investigations into the council as well as internal reviews.
Air quality manipulation
Perhaps most scandalous was the revelation in 2017 that the council had been caught manipulating air quality data for several years.
External auditors Bureau Veritas stated that there was clear evidence of ‘deliberate and systematic manipulation of the data’ across one third of all the council’s air quality monitoring tubes which record nitrous oxide levels. The falsification was taking place across Cheshire East and involved huge data sets from 2011 – 2014. It seems improbable that a single rogue employee was doing this alone. And here the mystery deepens. Cheshire Constabulary opened a criminal investigation into the affair but closed it with no further action in December 2021. And the Council have refused to give any information about who was responsible. Consequently, we have no idea who was manipulating the data and whether they (plural) are still working at the council. Was it a group of council officers? Were councillors involved? Was the planning department implicated? Was the issue an open secret in some quarters of the council? Were the culprits even discovered? Is there a persisting culture of dishonesty and ignorance in the council around environmental matters? We have our suspicions.
Justifying the unjustifiable
More recently, Cheshire East Council revealed its true institutional attitude to the excavation of an old peat bog in Henbury to make way for Bellway’s housing development on Chelford Road.
Bellway (a company once given the highest ever fine for wildlife crime in the UK) are currently engaged in the excavation of 15,600 cubic metres of peat which is being used to create garden soil and infill as well as over 6000 cubic metres being removed from the site and dumped elsewhere. This will create huge CO2 emissions.
In January 2022, Nub News journalist, Alex Greensmith, pointed out the contradiction between the council allowing this to happen and their stated environmental ambitions. In response, a council spokesperson said, ‘whilst any removal of peat is regrettable in terms of environmental sustainability, this must be balanced against the economic and social benefits of a proposed development.’
If Cheshire East Council believe that the destruction of our biggest carbon stores can be balanced against ‘economic and social benefits’ can we really take them seriously? Are they with us in the struggle to protect nature and a liveable climate? Or are they on the side of business-as-usual offering us a cup of greenwash Kool-Aid?
Council trying to profit from Danes Moss
We understand from Freedom of Information requests that no council-owned land has been sold on Danes Moss since 2017. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been trying. This sign (see right) appeared on Congleton Road, the western boundary of the proposed development site.
We asked the estate agents dealing with this for information and were told that ‘We have now agreed heads of terms on this property – it hasn’t been on the market for a few months now…’
We also learnt that at least 6 acres of council land was for sale ‘with a provision for residential uses’.
So it is clear that Cheshire East Council are trying to make their money whilst they can and offload some of their holdings to housing developers.
The collaboration between TG Ltd and the Council has not always been a happy one. In 2019, council officers received an email from Johnny Gallagher (son of Thomas) who was unhappy that the council had not yet signed an infrastructure agreement for the SMDA. Johnny threatened that unless the demands of TG Ltd were met by the 5th July, “then TG shall formally take action against the Council under the Collaboration Agreement entered between the parties on 1 June 2016 for non-performance of its contractual duties.”
We believe that one of the main reasons that Cheshire East Council think they cannot change course on the SMDA is the potential threat of legal action by their private developer partner (not necessarily TG Ltd) .
It is presently unclear whether TG Ltd still own the privately held land. It may be that Sir Tony Gallagher’s company has bought the land from his brother and then sold it on to a housing developer – reportedly Barratt Homes. But this is speculative and unconfirmed.
Planning Applications List
List of all planning applications related to the SMDA site from 2017 to present.
- 1 outline permission
- 1 non-material amendment
- 10 reserved matters applications.
17/1874M (OUTLINE APPLICATION)
[GRANTED Jan 2019]
Demolition of existing structures and redevelopment of site including up to 950 homes; a one form entry primary school (use class D1), retail development (use class A1) of up to 4000sqm; employment floorspace comprising offices (use class B1a) of up to 500sqm and warehousing (use class B8) up to 10,000 sqm or relocation of existing demolition / reclamation yard operational facilities (sui generis); associated landscaping, roads and related works – outline application, all matters reserved except site accesses from Congleton Road, Moss Lane and Moss Lane/Star Lane.
19/1796M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Phase 1 primary infrastructure works comprising of enabling works, new highways, footpaths/cycleways, public open spaces, ecology areas and associated hard and soft landscaping, drainage and servicing works pursuant to outline planning permission 17/1874M.
21/5940M (NON-MATERIAL MINOR AMENDMENT)
[GRANTED Dec 2021]
21/6421M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 7 – 325 dwellings (Use Class C3) pursuant to outline planning permission 17/1874M.
21/6430M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 10 – relocation of existing demolition / reclamation yard operational facilities (Use Class Sui Generis) pursuant to outline planning permission 17/1874M.
21/6429M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 9 – relocation of existing demolition / reclamation yard operational facilities (Use Class Sui Generis) pursuant to outline planning permission 17/1874M.
21/6428M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 6 – 146 dwellings (Use Class C3) pursuant to outline planning permission 17/1874M.
21/6427M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 5 – a one form entry Primary School (1,300 sqm – Use Class D1) pursuant to outline planning permission 17/1874M.
21/6422M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 8 – 179 dwellings (Use Class C3) pursuant to outline planning permission 17/1874M.
22/0054M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 3 – 120 dwellings (Use Class C3) pursuant to Outline planning permission 17/1874M.
22/0036M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 4 – 180 dwellings (Use Class C3) pursuant to outline planning submission 17/1874M.
22/0030M (RESERVED MATTERS APPLICATION)
Details of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Phase 2 – 4,000sq m of retail (Use Class A1) pursuant to outline planning submission 17/1874M.
- TG Ltd. Company number 115004. Registered with Jersey Financial Services Commission on 17 Feb 2014. Sources: Special Resolution (2014) and Company Accounts (2015 – 2020).
- Cheshire East Council (2022) ‘Freedom of Information Request Internal Review no. 14404186: Request for clarification of CEC’s ownership of land in the South Macclesfield Development Area’
- Cheshire East Council (2022) ‘Council responds to concerns about South Macclesfield scheme‘ Cheshire East Council (2022) Available here: https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/council_and_democracy/council_information/media_hub/media_releases/council-responds-to-concerns-about-south-macclesfield-scheme.aspx?fbclid=IwAR0wfVqcZ-FP15uOKknc9QGN34TSG_ORZa4oOquHtVbv-DGSay-qHldTZFk
- Daily Mail (2016) ‘Cameron celebrates his 50th with ultra exclusive party’ Available here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3827953/Cameron-celebrates-50th-ultra-exclusive-party-Just-23-guests-invited-Dave-s-low-key-birthday-albeit-26million-country-pile-owned-favourite-Tory-donor.html
- Macclesfield Express (2016) ‘Council defends land deal with Jersey firm’ Available at: https://www.macclesfield-live.co.uk/news/local-news/council-defends-land-deal-jersey-11411642
- The Sunday Times (2022) ‘The Tory donors with access to Boris Johnson’s top team
In return for a £250,000 donation to the Conservatives, multimillionaires are being ushered into the heart of government as part of a secret ‘advisory board’ Published on 19 Feb 2022.