The plan to build homes on The King’s School site will still go ahead despite Cheshire East admitting to an ‘embarrassing’ error regarding the consultation stage.
The council’s strategic planning board (SPB) approved a recommendation in April 2021 to build 121 homes on the former King’s School Cumberland Street site.
The scheme includes the demolition of existing buildings and the residential redevelopment of the site to provide a mixture of conversion and new build dwellings and ‘Later Living’ apartments, with associated access, car parking open space, landscaping and infrastructure.
But the application came before the SPB again on Wednesday (July 14) as an ‘update’ because it was realised after the April meeting that, due to an admin error, the National Amenity Societies, which undertake listed building casework on a national basis, were not consulted on the applications.
Following the SPB meeting, all six amenity societies were consulted by the council but only one, the Twentieth Century Society, responded and objected on the grounds the science block and art block should be retained: “The former science and art blocks could be converted for reuse as part of the proposed development. This would not only have heritage benefits but would also prevent the production of environmentally harmful carbon emissions through the buildings’ demolition.”
Macclesfield Town councillor Mike Hutchison told Wednesday’s council meeting: “For many of you this is the fourth time you have been asked to make a decision about this planning application but only the first time with all of the information. By their own admission the planners failed in their legal obligation to notify the National Amenities Societies and you now have their response which objects to the proposal.”
He added: “Also, in May, I wrote to planning officers about my concerns relating to the design and conservation officer’s report which was only released into the public seven days before the April SPB, over 20 months after it was written and insufficient time for Macclesfield Town Council, as a statutory consultee, to review and comment.
“The design and conservation officer objects to the plans.”
The board heard on Wednesday from planning officer Mr Moore that, ‘in terms of previous meetings, from the outset it’s been made clear that there has been an objection on the table from the council design and conservation officer’.
He referred to the relevant pages in the report of April 21, where the officer had objected.
Cllr Brendan Murphy (Disley, Real Independent Group) opened the debate at the July meeting and proposed the entire application should be re-considered.
“I understand it might well be that, if this is reconsidered, we might well come to the same decision but at least it will then be 100 per cent pure and correct in the way we’ve done it,” said Cllr Murphy.
“It does seem to me there is a case for the matter to be reconsidered.”
Cllr Barry Burkhill (Handforth, Ind) seconded Cllr Murphy’s proposal saying the whole site had been very controversial over the years.
“There’s a lot of loose ends here chairman and I don’t think we’re in a safe position to make a decision on this without looking at the whole thing again properly,” he said. “I would certainly like to see the full written report of what the design and conservation officer said.”
SPB vice chair Stewart Gardiner (Knutsford, Con) disagreed.
“The SPB has considered this application and the board made a recommendation which we would expect our officers to fulfil,” said Cllr Gardiner.
“The oversight in not consulting with the six amenity bodies is regrettable and obviously has put us in a little bit of an embarrassing situation as a council, however, of those six amenity societies, only one has chosen to respond, the Twentieth Century Society.”
He said no-one had raised an issue about these particular buildings before and ‘that would suggest that locally, in Macclesfield, although this site is precious to people, those actual elements of the site are not precious, they weren’t raised’.
“When we considered the application previously we were aware of Mr Hallam’s [conservation officer] objections, even if we did not see chapter and verse,” said Cllr Gardiner.
“If we had been aware of the Twentieth Century Society’s objections in April, would we have made a different decision? Are we really saying that when two other reputable heritage bodies are saying there is no value in these buildings being retained, we would have taken a counter decision because an amenity society whose only purpose is to preserve 20th century architecture was saying they should be retained? There is no reason, realistically, why we would preserve these buildings.”
Cllr Gardiner proposed the board approve the officer’s recommendation to note the receipt and content of the comments made by the Twentieth Century Society, but proceed with the committee resolutions made at the April meeting.
The SPB first voted on the proposal to reconsider the application but this was defeated. Two councillors voted in favour, eight against and one abstained.
It then voted in favour of approving the officer’s recommendation. Seven councillors voted in favour of this, two against and two abstained.
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