We have created a detailed summary of some of the key issues we have been able to uncover while campaigning against the destruction of the northern part of Danes Moss. Issues such as these need to be publicised and Cheshire East Council needs to act upon them to ensure further damage is not done in eroding public trust in our local government with regard to planning and the importance of the environment that future generations will inherit.
1: ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT
Failure to agree an appropriate scope for the outline EIA process, in accordance with EIA
Regulations, and in an appropriately recorded and transparent manner, represents a gross dereliction of duty by the Council and officers concerned. This resulted in councillors being poorly informed at the time of the planning decision, and inadequate information being used to support reserved matters applications.
The consultant undertaking the environmental impact assessment (EIA) submitted with application 17/1874M requested a scoping opinion from Cheshire East Council under the provisions of the EIA Regulations 2011. No scoping opinion was issued by the Council. This, in effect, handed design of the scope to the consultant;
In the absence of a formal scoping opinion the consultant undertook an “informal scoping process” as part of the project planning process.
Assessment of climate change impacts was explicitly excluded from the EIA on the grounds that mitigation measures would be included in each technical chapter of the environmental statement (ES). These measures are, however, not included in each technical chapter of the ES. Chapter 2 of the ES also includes a statement that appears to suggest that if the development is not carbon neutral, this would be classed as a significant adverse effect, therefore a standalone climate change chapter would not be included;
The “informal scoping process” also included rejection of a request from CEC’s Principal Nature Conservation Officer for more comprehensive ecological assessment, including a Breeding bird survey;
Failure to assess climate impacts at the outline stage was a gross departure from best EIA practice.
2: LANDSCAPE CHARACTER ASSESSMENT
The Landscape Character Assessment is intended to “inform the determination of planning applications 1 ”. The major change in the boundaries of the Danes Moss site (LCT 9b in the Landscape Character Assessment 2018) has not been justified and all records of the evaluation process appear to have been lost;
Lack of transparency and meaningful engagement by CEC, allied to the arbitrary nature of the re-classification process, severely weakens confidence in the Council’s probity.
Outline planning application 17/1874M was assessed in accordance with CEC’s Landscape Character Assessment 2008. This identified the Mossland LCT (Landscape Character Type) as being of high cultural and landscape value and noted that it is highly sensitive to disturbance. Chapter 6 of the ES noted that the whole development site fell within the Mossland LCT;
The Local Character Assessment was reviewed and re-published in 2018. The criteria for defining the Mossland character type remained the same as the 2008 version, however the whole SMDA area was omitted from the area classed as Mossland;
Clarification of the process for excluding the SMDA area from the Mossland classification has been sought through direct communication and through the Environmental Information Regulations, however the council claims that no information is held on file;
Appendix 2 of the 2018 Landscape Character Assessment includes a description of the type of information to be recorded during the review process. Additionally, a draft LCA report was published on CEC’s website in 2017. At least some of this information should have been retained on file, especially given the scale of change. The consultancy undertaking the review has also been contacted for an explanation of the rationale for amending the Mosslands LCT boundary, however no response has been received;
The Landscape Character Assessment 2008 document has been removed from the CEC webpages despite it being referenced in the Local Plan and related planning guidance documents.
3: PHASE 1 RESERVED MATTERS
The obstructive and secretive approach adopted by the council in relation to the Addendum Environmental Statement effectively precludes determination of an agreed scope for the assessment process;
Lack of a clear and coherent approach to remedying the deficiencies of the ES submitted with 17/1874M erodes trust in the council and local democracy;
Publication of an uncoordinated set of reports would ignore legal precedent;
The Council has stated an Addendum Environmental Statement is in preparation, however it does not appear to have been commissioned in accordance with the EIA regulations 2017. Although this is not a mandatory procedure, it would ensure a systematic approach to assessment and could have corrected the deficiencies in the outline application EIA;
It is likely that the Addendum has been commissioned on an ad hoc basis, however requests for information relating to the scope of the Addendum have been ignored;
There is no evidence of the tendering process for technical studies that would be required for an Addendum ES, and compliance with procurement policies may have been breached.
Case law 2 states that an ES should be:
“…a single and accessible compilation, produced by the applicant at the very start of the application process…”
“…a disparate collection of documents… traceable only by a person with a good deal of energy and persistence… does not satisfy… the requirement to make available to the public the … information which should have been provided by the developer”
For the avoidance of doubt, the Addendum ES should address:
- Project description:
Fully detailed description of ground stabilisation techniques, with references and precedents, plus contingency proposals in the event of failure of the proposed stabilisation techniques;
A comprehensive assessment of alternative land uses for the site, including those providing community and environmental benefit;
- Policy context:
National and local policy updates since submission of 17/1874M including planning, peat conservation, and climate mitigation and adaptation;
Assessment of climate impacts with reference to up-to-date datasets and including volumetric assessment of the peat deposit plus analysis of storage and sequestration of carbon by the peat horizons;
Assessment of groundwater flows including direction, rates, and volumes;
Survey and evaluation of impacts on: breeding bird populations; mammals; invertebrates; flora; and fungal communities based on current data records and meaningful field observations;
Connectivity between the development site, the landfill, and Danes Moss SSSI;
4: PEAT CARBON STATUS REPORT
CEC has consistently blocked public access to this key report and has been evasive when challenged, eroding public confidence in the Authority.
It is thought that one of the studies contributing to the Addendum ES is South Macclesfield Development Area: Assessment of Peat Carbon Status, undertaken by RSK on behalf of RoC Consulting. The final version of this document is dated December 2021;
A copy of this document has been requested from CEC by direct communication and via a Freedom of Information Act request. A range of reasons for non-publication of this report have been received including: it is a draft report (it is not a draft); its release would impede consideration of its findings (CEC has been in possession of this report since late 2021 – it is 16 pages long); CEC is not the client therefore it would require permission from the authors to release it (RoC Consulting is part of the RSK Group – RSK was, in effect, its own client. If RoC is the client, why does CEC hold a copy of the report?);
2 House of Lords: Berkley vs Secretary of State for Environment & Others; 6th July 2000; Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hoffman, Lord Hope, Lord Hutton, Lord Millett